About the book
Even though she hated him, he dreamed of making her his...
After losing both her parents to a deadly illness, Amanda Roberts swears to never let another patient die. However, her oath is challenged when a nearly dead man wounds up outside her door and she finds herself torn: stay true to her beliefs or let her worst enemy perish.
When his parents died, Jonathan MacKenzie, Laird of Sinclair, vowed to turn his life around for good, all too aware that some wrongs can never be righted. Until some twisted fate leaves him at the mercy of the healer who irrevocably pierced his heart.
But their ignited feelings can´t keep them warm for long, and Jonathan’s brush with death cannot remain a secret. Especially when whoever wants him gone makes another attempt to rectify their previous failure using a powerful weapon: Amanda. Faced with her unavoidable doom, Jonathan has to make the ultimate choice: abandon Amanda, or hand over his clan on a silver platter…
Jonathan Mackenzie, son of the Laird of Sinclair Clan, waited patiently atop his horse, hidden behind a copse of trees. His eyes were forward. He could see the outline of a stag as it crept tremulously through the forest on the edge of the rocky glen—its eyes moving one way and then the other.
He waited, feeling the cool spring breeze ruffle his blond hair. Quietly, he lifted the edge of the bowstring upward, touching his thumb to his cheek. He was well-practiced, even though he was still young—twenty-two years. He glanced from side to side at his men, who grinned in encouragement.
He pulled back as slowly as he could. Jonathan sometimes felt that he could almost slow his heart rate when he was hunting and narrow his focus so much that nothing else was in his vision, only the object of his aim. He pulled the arrow taut and was just about to lift his finger to release it when a groan filled the air.
All three men’s heads snapped to the right. Jonathan’s finger slipped, and the arrow buzzed through the air, getting caught in a pine tree, while the stag dashed away, crunching leaves under its hooves as it leapt out of sight. Jonathan angrily stowed the bow away on his saddle and jumped down to collect the arrow that was still hanging in the tree.
“Bloody Hell, what was that?” He looked at his men Finn and Angus. “Had we nae come to hunt in a quiet part of the woods?”
Finn nodded quietly, but he squinted into the trees, looking at the glen. “Och, or so we thought. Look there! That is the place where the sound came from.”
Jonathan and Angus turned their eyes to the edge of the glen, a little bit further down, and they could see a small wooden cabin. A man was stretched out on a table outside of it, and a young, dark-haired woman was leaning over him.
Jonathan grinned. “What do ye think the lass is doin’ to him? Why should he groan like that?”
Angus laughed, “Perhaps we have stumbled upon some sort of isolated house of fallen women?”
Jonathan smiled, watching her. He couldn’t yet see her face, but the way she was leaning did feel somewhat provocative, and it stirred something in his youthful loins.
“Well, let us go ask her? And we can demand compensation for the loss of our stag. Should we nae, men?”
Finn scrunched up his nose. “What if she is doin’ some sort of witchcraft to him?” He looked around in the woods, his eyes almost a little fearful. “Me Gran has told me many times about what the faeries and the witches do here amongst the trees. Maybe she is puttin’ him under a spell.”
Jonathan swung himself into his saddle on his horse, Foighiddin, and the sound of stretching leather filled the air. His kilt of green and blue spread out around him.
“Well, then we must go and investigate! Save the poor man from her clutches.” He led the way, laughing, caring not for Finn’s hesitance, for it was he who led his men, and they had been kept from their due.
I will nae have a mere lass keep me from my prize.
It did not take long for them to ride around the glen, and they wound their way down the trodden dirt path to the cabin. The man’s groans became ever louder, and once they were close to the pair, Jonathan jumped off his horse first, curious about what he might find. Whether a brothel or a witch at work, he wanted to see.
Angus and Finn bumped against his back as he approached. He squinted his eyes, and then he saw it. The young woman’s back was to him but could tell her figure. Even though she was clad in a dark bodice and skirt, he could see her outline and the way her dress fell over her comely backside.
As he stepped closer, he could see that she was sewing into the man’s skin, pulling the two sides of a wound together. He suddenly felt alarmed and pushed his strong shoulders back, his angry voice brewing in his throat.
“What goes on here, lass?”
She did not turn around, but she said simply, “A man has come to me to heal his wound, and so I do. The light is better outside today.” Her voice was light and kind but a little abrupt.
Jonathan could see the older man scrunching up his face in pain, a light sheen of sweat over his skin. He did not say anything but merely gripped the sides of the table on which he laid.
Jonathan glanced at dark-haired Finn and red-haired Angus on either side of him. He winked and then crossed his arms, deciding that he needed to receive compensation for the stag's loss.
“But surely ye hurt the man instead of healing him. The stag we were searching for ran off when it was in me sights since this man screamed out in pain, and it rocked the glen! Just look at his face!” As if to support his argument, the man heaved out a breath of pain.
At Jonathan’s words, she turned around, her hands on her hips. The man on her table laid back, breathing out slowly. Jonathan was still watching him, and he pointed.
“Look at his obvious relief, lass!” He turned his head up to meet hers, and the rest of the words he had wanted to say froze in his throat. Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, even if his life had not yet been very long—her long dark curls were tied to the side, and a long braid came down her shoulder.
The hair matched her thin dark brows, which rested inquisitively above shocking blue eyes that looked at him with what he assumed was reprehension. Her nose was pert and thin, and just below them was the most enticing pair of pink lips. As she watched him, Jonathan felt like everything had gone fuzzy for a moment—he couldn’t think clearly.
And then, the faerie spoke. “What do ye ken about medicine, sir? And why do ye come? Is there somethin’ I can do for ye, or are ye here simply to badger me while I work on this poor man?”
The woman’s gaze flicked back and forth between him and his other friends, who had mysteriously gone silent. Jonathan finally regained his footing, and he crossed his arms again, smirking. Here was a beautiful lass, full of fire. He wanted to tease her just a bit, just to see how far the fire would rise.
“I am certain I ken a damn sight more than ye, lass since ye are just a lass.” He snickered, and Angus and Finn joined him.
The woman’s face reddened with anger, and her eyes flashed. She took a breath, and Jonathan could feel the storm clouds raging. “How dare ye! Get out! I will nae service ye or yer friends if ye were dyin’ here in front of me house, I wouldnae help ye! Ye men are all the same! Ye ken nothin’!”
Jonathan felt the force of her fire. He had plenty of pretty women back closer to where he lived that fell for his teasing charms. He didn’t need the ire of a supposed healer. “Service us? We thought that was what yer occupation was at first. A house of a fallen woman set out in the glen ready to serve whatever gentleman came her way with coin!”
“Get out! Go find yerself a new precious stag to stick yer bow intae!” the woman said again; her blue eyes flashed with fury. She pointed towards the mountain behind them, and Jonathan began to back away.
“Gladly. I do hope we might never see each other again, lass.” He winked, and she scoffed.
“Ha! I hope that, as well. Just ye keep out of me part of the woods, and I shall never have need to see ye or for God’s name speak to ye!”
Jonathan nodded tensely and then began to walk away with Angus at his heels. Finn lingered behind just a bit but caught up as they reached their horses. Jonathan watched as the woman returned to her work.
“The lass is named Amanda. Amanda Roberts,” Finn said when he returned to his friends. “She did nae ken who ye were, though, and so I thought I ought to tell her. Embarrass her even further for her words.” Finn pulled on his reins.
“Aye, what a lass she was! Never seen so much fire before in me life! And for just a simple joke,” Angus added, shaking his head. “It was she that ruined the stag for us!”
Finn nodded. “I suppose me Gran was right. It looks like we have found a witch in these woods after all.”
Jonathan smirked, but he didn’t laugh. His eyes were still on the dark-haired girl as she leaned over the man once more.
“I daenae think that we found a witch, lads. I think we found a faerie. For all her fire, I found her as bewitchin’ as can be.”
Six Years Later...
Amanda Roberts hoisted her bucket of water up from the stream, clutching tightly to the rope which she had tied into its sides so that she could use her shoulder to help her carry it. She paused, trying to catch her breath, and squinted up into the sunlight.
Her wooden cottage stood where it always had—high up in the edge of the glen, while the stream ran below. She had to climb the set of natural stone stairs to return to it with her pail of water. A few weeks ago, she would not have blinked at such a task, for she had done it daily for so many years when she had lived there with her family.
But now, since her father passed away not three weeks before, every task felt arduous. Every one of her thoughts was tinged with pain, and it was almost like the pain of her heart had spread through to her muscles and joints, making her miserable.
She started up the steps, heaving the water upon her side. It was no use to try to keep the water inside of the bucket, for it would slosh and spit out onto the stones and down the woolen skirt of her dress.
Ye couldnae save him.
There was that voice again. She sighed but trudged on, and yet its repeated rhythm was in her mind.
Ye couldnae save him. Just as ye couldnae save yer maither, all those years ago.
She sighed tears at the corners of her eyes. They were always there, it seemed, lingering, waiting.
“Nay, I couldnae.” Her voice was fraught with resignation. Her mind flashed back to the moment where her father clutched her hand amid his fever.
He had absolved her from guilt. He had told her that everything would be fine and that it was not her fault. It was merely the way of things. She laughed under her breath despite herself.
Her father had always seen things like that, simple accidents. That the world was just a conglomeration of unforeseen occurrences, and there was no reason to get upset about anything, for all was random.
But Amanda wanted someone to blame, someone to be angry at for the loss of both of her parents within a few years of each other. Her mother had died so quickly; there had been no time to say goodbye. At least she and her father had been able to speak a little before he had left her alone in the world.
If there was no God, then Amanda had only herself to turn her rage and bitterness to, and so she had set to it while also throwing all her focus into her work as a healer. She would fight to help anyone who came her way, to keep them alive.
Death was a hungry beast, and she felt continually surrounded by its darkness. Her work as a healer that she’d started before her mother’s death had helped assuage some of her sorrow and guilt. When her mother passed, she’d returned to it with a vengeance, hoping to save others from the same sorrow and grief that she’d experienced.
But then, there had been Jonathan Mackenzie. The most handsome man she had ever laid eyes upon, she’d nearly been shocked into not silence to his goading. But his words had been too hurtful. Just at the time when she had been attempting something strange and new, worried about her skills to save, he had come to remind her of her fears: that she knew nothing about medicine as a woman, and that she only brought pain, just like she had to her mother.
Shaking her head from the painful memory, she entered her cottage and poured the bucket of water into the iron pot on the fire.
“I will have to go get another soon; I ken,” she said to the empty room, empty save for a caramel-colored cat who slithered between her ankles, purring as if to give her encouragement.
“Thank ye, Ghaoil. Ye are me solace now.” She petted the cat she had named Love after she found her hiding away in the forest one morning, soon after her mother’s death.
Amanda stood, looking around her room. She had much work to do. There were always herbs to gather, cut, dry, put away, and cloths to clean, water to boil. Her work as a healer was never complete. Each day brought with it someone and something new to work on, and she was grateful. Her work at least brought her a measure of control that she so craved. This was her universe.
“What will we have today, I wonder, Ghaoil?” Amanda said as she put her apron on and pulled a pile of fresh herbs towards her, ready to cut them into pieces for her jars. As if the world had heard her question and wished to answer it, she heard a knock at the door and a groan that followed.
Alarmed, Amanda wiped her hands on her apron and rushed to open the door. A man practically spilled into the room, blood-spattered over his chest. She looked down to see a familiar face, one she had not seen in a long time.
Blond, extremely handsome, and even though she could see he was grimacing in pain, and his hand was attempting to cover over a wound, the man said, “Greetings, lass. I hope ye daenae mind me just passin’ through.”
“Are ye certain about this, Laird?” Finn Milligan asked, his current man at arms. There were six of them altogether, and Jonathan looked over his group of men.
“Aye, I am certain. Take yerselves onward to the next village. I shall do well enough with the boy here,” Jonathan pointed a leather-gloved hand to a young, trembling soldier whose eyes opened wide at Jonathan’s words.
“This village here is small enough for us to collect our own. Ye ken it. Remember, we stopped by here a few years ago?”
Finn smiled, nodding his dark head of curls. “Aye, Laird. When a certain young woman, bonny as could be, gave it to ye as good as she could. A mouth full of fire, that one.”
“A faerie of the woods,” Jonathan whispered, grinning to himself.
“She is a well-kenned healer around these parts. She saves everyone who comes to her door, so I hear.”
Jonathan lifted a brow. “Is that so?” He chuckled. “And I in me youth told her she couldnae do such a thing as a woman.” He shook his head, remembering his folly. His stupid statements said in jest to a woman who had not left his mind’s eye even after all those years.
Then, he looked around at the other men and furrowed his brow. “Go now, then, lads. Take yerselves to Drognaich. I will handle Ghen.”
Angus rode by close to the boy and clamped a hand on his shoulder. “Ye shall do well, enough, lad, just be careful nae to anger the Laird, mind.” The young man trembled even more, and Jonathan had to keep from laughing.
“Come, lad. We are in this direction. Let us collect what is due to Sinclair Clan.”
He turned his horse to a trodden path deeper into the woods. He could hear his other men and their gear trotting away out of the edge of the trees, and he felt a sort of relief. It always felt better to be alone, especially since his parents' death only a year before.
Others eventually became insufferable to be around, and so Jonathan would search out time alone if he could. But, as the new Laird, his time was not his own, and it was constantly called upon. That was why he had chosen the bright-eyed lad to accompany him. The young boy was too afraid to speak to him, and so they could ride in silence to their destination.
In the last few years, rumors had begun to spread about Jonathan Mackenzie. He had grown a bit hard, and while it saddened him a little, he could not be any different. The world was a cruel place, and it was best if one understood that. There was no room to feel anything that made one vulnerable, open to pain, for that’s what the world would bring.
It was made even harder by the fact that Romain Stuart, the Laird of Ross Clan had begun to needle him into joining clans under the man’s rule. Lately, Jonathan’s only solace was to ride, hunt, and read alone by the fire with a bottle of whiskey at his side.
As they rode, horse hooves crunching over the hard ground, the path became all too familiar. Only six years before had he stood by that small group of trees, pointing his bow into the woods, hoping to catch a stag by the heart when a bloody lass had caused a man to yell and scared off his catch.
And there it was. Before the two men, the wooden cottage came into view, the glen opening up like a natural gift, and sunlight fell through to its bottom, where Jonathan could spy a sparkling stream.
He had followed his promise and had not returned to this place or seen the lass for years. It was partly for the embarrassment of the way he’d treated her. Later, he had heard about the fever which had recently taken her mother just before he and his friends had stumbled upon her. And now, Finn had informed him of her father’s death a few weeks before. Amanda Roberts was now all alone in the world, and she did not need a rude, immature figment of the past coming back to disturb her.
And so, as he passed near to her house, he hoped that she would not suddenly come out again. He would not begin to break her commands now, but he did consider the pleasure of looking upon her bonny face.
Instinctively, Jonathan’s head turned as he heard the snap of a twig to his left. He looked back at the boy’s face, who only frowned in his direction. Something felt wrong. Was it just him, or had the birds stopped singing so merrily in the trees? He strained his neck as he looked around.
All seemed in order, but that was not always the case. A well-skilled hunter knew that they should trust sounds, for sounds told the truth. Another twig snapped, and Jonathan’s blood felt cold in his veins. The presence most certainly felt human.
He wrapped his fingers around the sword to his side, ready to pull it from its scabbard feel the weight of it in his hands. Two men jumped from the trees in a flash, their swords high, with yells in their throats. Jonathan pulled back a little as he saw other two men jump forth from the opposite side. But his surprise was brief.
He rode alongside the men, bringing his sword down to hit them as he galloped past them. They were rough-looking, with strange colored kilts around their waists. He didn’t recognize them at all, but their heavy beards and long hair obscured most of their face. He struck one, cutting through the muscle in the chest.
He looked back to see the young man fighting with another. He was a good fighter. The young soldier ran the sword through the man he was fighting, and the man crumpled, bleeding out onto the forest floor.
But quickly enough, one of the other men ran to the young man’s side and thrust a sword into him. Enraged, Jonathan jumped down from his horse, taking on two men. He spun, and his sword ripped through the air. He could feel his arms shrieking with pain, but he didn’t care.
He would kill, kill for the young man, kill for the reason that these men attacked him unprovoked, and were attempting to take his life. The sound of metal screamed through the forest, and Jonathan kept swinging and fighting until he had pushed his sword through another man’s chest, and the other rushed off the trees, too fearful of reckoning with the man who had lost everything and yet still fought to save a life.
Jonathan didn’t follow after them. He didn’t think it was worth it, not when his soldier lay clumped in a heap on the ground, sending out quiet whimpers of pain. He crouched down by him and pulled him into his arms.
Jonathan was surprised at the soothing tone in his voice. “Lad, all will be well. Ye will see. It is only a brief moment of pain.” But, Jonathan could see blood forming in the boy’s mouth, and he wanted to scream at the world and its cruelty.
Softly, he said, “What is yer name, lad? I confess I have never asked it.”
“Michael,” the boy stuttered. Jonathan was going to keep talking, to keep reassuring him, but he could feel the tremble of death in his arms.
The boy struggled for a moment but then gurgled and sighed, leaving the world behind. A trickle of blood fell from his mouth, and Jonathan watched as life drained from Michael’s eyes, which faced upward to the blue sky, sightless forever.
“Bloody waste,” he whispered hoarsely, feeling a wound rubbed raw in his heart. “I should have jumped down, helped him right away. He was too green.”
All of a sudden, a fresh pain jolted in his side. He could feel a cold sweat come out on his forehead, and he looked down to see the side of him covered in blood, and the pain became all too real.
He clutched at it, groaning, for the pain grew and swelled in his brain, now that he had had time to think about it, to acknowledge it.
“Hell,” he said to the forest, and then, with a little joking satisfaction, he remembered there was a healer not too far away.
Shaking his head, he clutched along the grass and trunks of the trees to help him to stand. Shuffling along, he began to get just the littlest bit dizzy, but he could keep the cottage in his sights if he could just get there.
The only thing on his mind was the warm feeling of moisture in his hand as he clutched tightly on the wound to keep him from hemorrhaging. Even though his parents were dead, and the world seemed just a little too bleak, he wasn’t ready to leave it yet.
“Especially nae at the hands of a group of fools,” he grunted out, meandering his way back down the edge of the glen, the very same path he had trod six years ago as a proud young man, desperate to flirt with a woman who had stopped the words in his throat with her beauty.
He had made it. He was at her very doorstep. He knocked and then slumped against the wooden door, feeling the sharp jab of the strong wood against his shoulder. She opened it, and he fell on her threshold.
“Greetings, lass,” he said, a smile on his face.
“Ye,” she breathed, looking none too pleased to see him.
Her face was a little blurry to his dismay, but he could still make out the fierce blue eyes of hers that age would never ruin. He hoped that fate would not deprive him of one last look of beauty afore his life was bled from his body, but he could have no control.
She did not say anything, and he felt a pull on his leather tunic, but then all went dark. He sunk into that starry abyss, the smell of lilacs in his nose.
“Bloody Hell,” Amanda breathed out as she took in the massive silhouette of Laird Jonathan Mackenzie, who was bleeding to death. Once he’d greeted her in a way that made meeting him six years ago feel like it was yesterday, he fell unconscious, and she dragged him further inside to check the state of his wound.
“Och, the world is random, is it nae?” she said quietly, and her heart sunk when she could see the amount of blood he’d lost already, covering his hands and his tunic. As soon as he was far enough inside, she set to work, a crinkle appearing between her brows as she concentrated.
She tore open his tunic, pulling apart the leather ties so that she could see the wound better. It was deep, a sword cut, and blood was oozing out of it at a rapid pace. She rushed to her table of herbs with her fingers searching nervously and grabbed the glass jar of yarrow, and hurried back to his side.
“I will nae lose another, nae while there is breath in me body,” she said aloud, hoping the gods of mercy heard her. She took a bundle in her hands and put it into her mouth to chew it into a gummy paste. She also sprinkled a few sprigs into a bowl of boiling water that she ladled from her pot.
Once it was done, she knelt by him, dipping a cloth into the yarrow tea and wiping the wound quickly before removing the paste from her mouth. She pushed it gently deep into the wound, and then searched in her room for cloth for a bandage.
She had already prepared a pile of clean, white cloth, and she began to wrap the cloth slowly around the muscular torso of this man who had just appeared out of nowhere. “That will stop the blood for now,” she whispered to him. She watched him for a little bit to make sure blood did not begin to soak through the bandage, and it did not.
Sighing with relief, she left him where he was and went to prepare her needle and thread. She would have to close the wound soon to avoid infection, but who knew what could have been on the sword he’d come to blows with.
Jonathan did not wake up while she worked. She had cleaned the wound as best she could and set to stitching him together. She smiled when she remembered the way he had criticized her for doing that very thing to old Mr. Fletcher, who had cut his leg on a fence and was groaning loudly throughout the glen.
This time, her patient was much quieter and much more handsome, which her body refused to ignore. Her eyes couldn’t help but rove around his half-naked form. Six years had passed since they’d shared those bitter words, and in that time, he had become a man.
His chest had filled out with strong, rippling muscle, and it spread even to his stomach, which her fingers brushed against now and again while she pulled the thread through. He was going to scar from that wound, but scars covered the rest of his body as well.
It is the way of men. Women must be kept pristine with pearly and flawless skin, while the men can fight and scrabble, scarring themselves along the way.
After suturing his wound, she bandaged him again and left him to sleep, having attempted to pull him towards a woolen mattress on the floor, which she kept for heavier patients if no one had come to help her carry them.
But her eyes kept moving to him while she worked at her table, watching the rise and fall of his chest and the way his eyelids fluttered.
“Ghaoil, he is just as I remember,” she said aloud as Ghaoil walked next to Jonathan, sniffing at his hand. He most certainly was the same as the way she envisioned him in her memory, while also having grown more handsome, which irritated her. Blond, strong-jawed, with freckles on the tops of his cheeks. It made him seem boyish, even though she knew he was now the new Laird.
At the time when she’d first met him, she’d had no idea until his friend alerted her to whom she had insulted—the son of the Laird. After that, even though she held her anger tightly against her chest, she feared for a long time that someone would come to take her to gaol for insulting the son of the clan leader.
But her anger had been justified. Her mother had just recently died before he came to her, poking fun at her studied methods, those she had begun to hone. She had felt a burning rage she had not felt since, but his words still stuck with her, and they fueled her to keep learning and to keep trying to save her patients whenever they came to her.
Jonathan, however, despite his churlish words, had not returned to her. He had followed her commands, but now, suddenly, after all these years of hearing that he was a good and kind Laird, if not a little solemn as well as a lass-charmer, he tumbled into her life again. It followed with Amanda’s father’s belief. Life was a compilation of strange accidents. And there was nothing for it.
“Lass, ye dngalm,” mumbling came from Jonathan’s corner, and Amanda dropped her knife on the table to go to his side.
“What is it?” she asked, frowning as she looked at the pain on his face.
“Water,” he was able to get out.
Amanda found her water cask and poured it into a cup. She tilted his head up so that he could drink. He gulped the water down as if he hadn’t had any in days and then layed back again, sighing.
His eyes flickered open for a moment, and then she felt the fingertips of his hand touch her own. The contact made her gasp, and she looked up at his face again, but he had fallen asleep once more and was now breathing steadily. Amanda jumped away from him when she heard a knock at the door and heard Alina’s familiar voice calling her.
“Amanda! I have come and brought the herbs ye asked for.”
Amanda rushed to open the door, and she placed a finger on her lips. Alina frowned and then peered around her friend into the dim room.
She nodded and tiptoed inside, placing her colorful bundles onto the table. She pointed to each one in turn.
“Holy basil, yarrow root, wolfsbane, pennyroyal, and…” Amanda watched with interest as her friend, and the current pupil was attempting to remember the name. But she soon found it. “Milk thistle.”
“Excellent, Alina. Ye are improvin’.”
Alina smiled, but then her eyes turned to Jonathan who was sleeping. Her mouth dropped open. “Who is that?”
She took a step closer, and Amanda had to keep from laughing as Alina spun around, her hands on her hips. Alina was a cheery, loud kind of person, and during Amanda’s grief, it was always Alina who had helped keep a smile on her face. It was difficult to be sad around Alina’s bright green eyes and the flash of bouncing red hair. She made one laugh, always laugh, and not even Amanda was immune to her humor.
“Why, that is a beautiful man. And sprawled out on yer mattress without a shirt on him? A sight better than yer usual patients, Amanda.”
Amanda grinned. “Aye, better than Mr. Fletcher, to be certain. But, the man is an arse, so we will nae think of him as handsome. I am sure he kens it already and has lasses fallin’ at his feet. I will nae be one of them. It would give him too much satisfaction.”
Alina narrowed her gaze at him. “So ye ken him, then? Who is he?”
“He is our Laird. Laird Sinclair.”
Alina chuckled merrily but then covered her mouth at Amanda’s eyes of warning.
“And to think I dinnae even ken what the man looked like. We have heard about him enough, to be sure. We are too far out of the way, I suppose.”
“And it was me faither who would take the money for the tax collection time.”
“Aye.” Alina glanced back at him. “So ye ken him already? And he is an arse, ye say? Too bad. But I think I might like that. A handsome man, full of confidence, ready to carry me in his arms to our castle and make sweet love. That would nae be a very unpleasant activity. Even ye couldnae say that it would be.” She sighed with daydreaming contentment.
Amanda laughed softly, and for a strange reason, felt a twinge in her chest. It was a hint of jealousy. She had known that the Laird was not married, but the thought that another woman was privy to that beautiful man made her angry. She didn’t like to think about it, and so she pushed it aside.
“But even after the sweet lovemaking, still an arse, I say. Aye, we met many years ago. I think I have told ye this story. He is the one who came one day out of nowhere with his men and began to insult me openly about me bein’ a woman, kennin’ nothin’ about medicine, and that I was causin’ more pain than healin’.”
Alina’s mouth dropped open a second time. “This was the man who did that to ye? Och, he is an arse then.” She watched him, her arms crossed. “But lovely, though. I bet he has a lovely arse too.”
“Alina!” Amanda said in a harsh whisper, and the two of them had to leave the cottage to laugh loudly out in the open. It was true, Amanda thought. Unfortunately, the man was a bastard, but she was certain he would have a lovely arse.
It felt like he was in a warm, pleasant dream. No longer did he feel the stabbing pains of his wound or the strange feeling of warm blood leaving his body, pulling his life away from him. Sometimes he could hear singing and sometimes soft voices. All he felt was the touch of light hands on his skin and the touch of soft wool surrounding him. There was also the faint scent of lilacs in the air, and he wondered idly if he was in heaven.
He was unsure at first, but then he was sure when his eyes flickered open, calling for water. She was there before him, her lovely face surrounded by dark hair and a pair of blue eyes as refreshing as the sky on a summer’s day.
Angel. An angel has come to save me.
He reached out for her, touching her hand with his fingers, wanting to clutch her in gratitude. But then, the darkness swallowed him again in its warm embrace, and he fell back down and down.
After a while, Jonathan did not know how long, he woke to hear the sound of a soft voice, humming nearby. He felt so hot, and a sheen of sweat felt painted on his forehead. He groaned a little and tried to sit up. In a flash, a hand was on his shoulder.
“Lay back down, ye must nae try to get up.”
The hand moved to his forehead and then lightly touched the place where his wound must be, for he winced.
“Blast,” she said, “Ye are in a fever. I had worried about it, but I will make ye somethin’ to drink, and ye will feel better.”
Her words were confident, but the tone in her voice seemed to waver. He was too tired and too hot to care about what she was doing.
He heard the sound of cutting and mixing, and he waited, trying to breathe through the sharp pain in his wound until the woman returned and passed him a clay mug to take to his lips.
“What is it?” he asked with a grimace, for the smell was not usual.
The angel put her hand on her hips, “Have ye time to argue with a healer, Jonathan Mackenzie? Go on, then, drink it down, and I shall see to yer wound.”
Normally, he would have laughed or tried to fight back at such a rebuke, but instead, he followed her instruction and drank down the hot concoction, scrunching up his nose as he did so.
As if she knew he was to ask again, Amanda said, “It is a mixture of basil and ginger. They are handy in helping to bring down the fever. So is cleaning the wound properly.” She pulled at his bandages, and Jonathan laid back, trying to focus on his breath while she worked.
“Och, I may have to open these stitches and start again. Perhaps there is something inside yer wound that I missed.” She went away but returned soon after, placing a warm, wet cloth on his skin.
“Who did this to ye, if I may ask?”
He cleared his throat, feeling like his head had cleared for just a moment, the pain bringing him back to consciousness, but he did not open his eyes.
“Daenae ken. They jumped out at us from the trees.”
The memory of Michael trembling into death in his arms washed over him. He wanted to return to unconsciousness again so that he would not have to feel that pain.
“Aye, another man, another soldier. He was killed in battle. I practically crawled here.”
“So I saw.” She paused for a moment in her movements and then said, “I am sorry for that. Nay one has come to mention anybody in the woods.”
“Thank ye, lass.”
“Gratitude?” Her voice held the tiniest drop of sarcasm. “From Laird Sinclair? How strange.”
Jonathan tried to chuckle, but then he winced again as a pricking of pain spread through his stomach.
“Och, ye are nae yet ready for jokes, which is surprisin’. But it is good for ye to sleep again. I have somethin’ to give ye. That way ye will nae wake when I work on the wound again, to clean it properly.”
Jonathan couldn’t bear to open his eyes. At least his words were coming to him, but after that last bout of pain, he felt himself go pale, and his head went fuzzy. He could do nothing more than lay back and allow her to help him drink a new concoction.
Her voice was quiet and calm as she said, “Sleep and rest. There will be enough time for reprimands when ye awake, Laird.”
Jonathan felt the warm, thick liquid went down his throat. It had an earthy, herbal taste, including whiskey flavor, and he felt himself descending back into a pleasant stupor. But before he was completely gone, he felt one word pass his lips, and he breathed out, “Amanda,” with a smile on his face.
It had been four days since Jonathan Mackenzie had come to her. Now that she had cleaned his wound and resown it two days before, the sweat had left his forehead. He was breathing a little easier; the skin of his eyelids was smooth. When she had reopened the wound, she felt a little foolish, for she had missed a tiny stone that had been left there.
Ever since, she had chided herself harshly for her carelessness, and she had watched him carefully, biting her nails, waiting, waiting for the crinkle of pain in his forehead to go away.
I must have been nervous. He had surprised me so. I must nae have been thinking clearly.
He had not woken up so clearly again as he had two days before, but his breathing was smooth and easy, and his forehead was cold to the touch. She was grateful. Ghaoil slithered by her and curled up at Jonathan’s feet. She had taken to sleeping there of late.
Amanda said, “I see that ye have chosen yer new friend, Ghaoil. What will I be to ye then, once he leaves?”
For he would leave as soon as he was well. She was surprised that no one had come looking for him; indeed, he had left a blood trail if he’d stumbled or crawled to her house. Thankfully, no one had come to visit her for healing during the four days, for which she was glad about. She wasn’t sure how to explain that the injured Laird lay within her home, alone.
The same Laird who somehow knew and remembered her name. She watched him for a moment, wondering why he would have remembered such a thing and why the sound of it on his lips had sent a pleasant shiver down her spine.
Feeling warm at the memory, Amanda went outside to get a little fresh air. She had spent too much time inside, worrying about his condition. Even though he was a bastard, she could not lose him. Amanda would not be the cause of another person’s death. At least not so close to when she could not save her father from the dark abyss.
The sound of horse’s hooves turned her from her brooding thoughts, and a concerned young man approached her, with the Sinclair colors on his kilt and a blade at his side. He was indeed from the castle, and he looked oddly familiar to her.
“Miss Roberts?” He asked as he walked up to her.
“Aye, that is me.” She faced him, her arms wrapped around herself protectively, unsure if she should worry about harboring the injured Laird.
The dark-haired, bearded man said, “I have been lookin’ for days. The Laird? Is he here?” His eyes flicked towards the cottage, and she smiled.
“Och, aye, he is here.” The man breathed out a sigh of relief and rushed to the door, but Amanda put out a hand to stop him. “But he is resting. We will have to be very quiet.”
He nodded, and the two of them slipped inside. The man approached Jonathan carefully and made the sign of the cross over his chest. “Thank ye, God,” he whispered, and Amanda watched him look at the bandage on Jonathan’s stomach.
“What has happened?” His voice had grown low and cold.
“He awoke two days ago to tell me that he was attacked in the woods. Men jumped out of the trees. It is a sword wound, sure enough. But I must tell ye; he mentioned another man who was with him. That man died.”
Finn’s face crinkled in despair. “Michael. Och, and so young too. So full of fear for our Laird. I will go and search for him as well.” He shook his head and lifted his dark eyes to Amanda. “Jonathan had nay idea who the men were?”
Amanda shook her head. “Nay. He said he dinnae ken. The other man died, and then he stumbled here to find me. I am surprised ye dinnae see his blood trail.”
Finn sighed. “We were stuck collectin’ taxes in the next town over. There was a bit of a brawl over some unpaid debts, and we had to stay longer than we had reckoned, and then we were to meet the Laird back at the castle with his man.”
He took a breath. “When I returned, he wasnae there, and we were all concerned. I rode out soon after, but it had become too dark to track him. I slept, and we tried again, but we had nae expected him to get caught here. We spent all our time searching in yer closest village, hopin’ to find answers. It was only on me way back today that I thought to stop by, near to where we had parted ways. It was by the guidance of God.”
Amanda nodded, not wanting to refute his beliefs, even though it had been mere luck that had brought him to this spot. “Well, I am glad ye are here then. So, I shall nae be put in irons for keepin’ the Laird here?”
Finn chuckled. “Nae, ye should be rewarded handsomely for yer aid.” His face grew grim again. “I am certain ye have heard of his parent’s death nae too long ago. As they were travelin’.”
“Aye, so I did. How tragic. Was it an accident?”
“Aye, so they believe. A carriage accident of a sort, aye. So now Jonathan Mackenzie is the only hope they have for Sinclair Clan. He cannae die and leave us with nothin’.”
“Besides, we are good friends. Have been for many years.”
“And ye are also his guard?”
“Aye, his man at arms.” They both fell silent, and Finn turned to look at Jonathan as if to reassure himself that his friend was still well. Amanda began to cut herbs quietly on the wooden table, and Finn asked, “Do ye remember me, lass?”
Amanda squinted at him and turned her head. “I thought perhaps that I might, but I cannae place ye.”
He pointed a thumb in Jonathan’s direction. “It was I who came with Jonathan all those years ago when we were actin’ like fools. I am Finn.”
He looked down, and Amanda was surprised that a soldier of the castle could look so sheepish.
“Och, ye are the one who told me that it was the Laird’s son whom I had insulted. Aye, I remember.”
“Ye will have to forgive us. We were nothin’ but dobbers, full of ourselves.”
Amanda laughed. “It was a long time ago. There is nothin’ much to forgive ye for.” She pointed at Jonathan with the knife she was using to cut herbs. “As for him, he was the one who did what he did.”
Finn sighed and shook his head. “Aye. What bleedin’ bastards we were. But I promise ye…”
Both Finn and Amanda looked at the door when Alina walked in quietly, pushing her red curls through the doorway to see if anyone was inside. She smiled at Amanda, and then her eyes lit upon Finn, and the smile melted into a bigger one. Amanda thought that her friend's eyes sparkled.
“Well,” she said softly, coming fully inside the door and shutting it quietly. She spoke to Amanda but kept her eyes on Finn. “I daenae wish to disturb, but I thought ye might need a bit of help today, as ye have been stuck inside watchin’ the patient these four days.”
Alina put her hands demurely behind her back and flashed her eyes at Amanda. Amanda knew she was meant to make the introduction.
“Alina, this is Finn. He is the Laird’s man at arms. And Finn, this is me good friend and student, Alina Donaldson.”
Finn’s smile was also wide as he took her hand in his, grasping it tightly.
“Alina. Beautiful name.”
It seemed the man had forgotten entirely that his Laird had been on the brink of death, the way his eyes were looking at Alina so dreamily.
Alina flushed pleasantly. “Lovely to meet ye. It appears that handsomeness seems to run rampant at Sinclair’s castle.”
“Alina!” Amanda cried with laughter, and Finn chuckled.
“Amanda agrees.” Alina shrugged, smiling at Finn. “She thinks the Laird is the most handsome man she has ever met. As for meself, I find I much prefer darker-haired men.”
Amanda blushed furiously. “Alina, ye exaggerate! And ye lie!” Even though Alina’s words were true, Amanda did not wish Finn to hear such an admission.
But Finn did not seem to notice. He was focused on Alina’s other words. “I see. I—” A groggy Jonathan sitting up in his bed interrupted him.
“What is all this noise? Can a man nae sleep around here?”
Amanda’s eyes opened wide as she realized that Jonathan very well could have heard Alina’s words, and then she would have lost the upper hand.
He could hear voices. At first, there was just one, the slow, lyrical one he had been used to hearing—Amanda’s. It had now become a comfort to him in his state, to assure him that all was well. Then, a new voice joined her, a worried, breathless one—a man’s. He wondered who it could be even though it seemed familiar to him.
He was still in a haze, and he couldn’t quite remember everything that was the outside world. His current world was just the blanket, the warm heat of a fire, and the smell of herbs and spices in the air.
And then a third voice entered, light, cheerful, and too giggly for his taste. But eventually, the grouping of voices roused him from his sleep, and he felt like he was being pulled out of deep, calm water, slowly rising to the surface, until the voices felt sharp and loud in his ear.
He grumbled. No one seemed to hear him at first. In his groggy state, he heard something about Amanda thinking he was the most handsome man she had ever met. Normally, he would have grinned in satisfaction, but he was still too tired. Yet, he knew that he would file that information away. Perfect to use for another time.
Eventually, the three talkers heard him when he called out, and Finn rushed to his side. “Jonathan, are ye well? Ye are awake! Praise be to God!”
Jonathan waved him away. His eyes flickered open, and he was staring into the face of his worried young friend.
“Och, God has nothin’ to do with it, lad. I think we must owe all credit to Amanda Roberts, me healer.”
He pointed in her direction, and when he looked up, he was struck anew by just how bonny she was. It was like he was seeing her for the first time again. He was no longer bleeding, no longer under a fever, and no longer in blinding pain.
All his energies could focus now on the beauty before him. She had not changed in the last six years, except that she had grown just a little more womanly in her curves, and he had to strain to keep his eyes from wandering over them hungrily.
Amanda approached him with a wry smile. “It is good to see ye awake, Laird. I had worried for ye. But after I resewed yer wound, all was well. The fever left ye.”
With Finn’s help, Jonathan sat up a little bit higher.
“I see ye ken me title now, thanks to Finn.” He nodded in Finn’s direction.
Amanda glanced at Finn and Alina but then said, “Aye, I have kenned for a long time. But it still doesnae make me regret me words the last time we saw each other.”
“And well, we deserved it, friend,” Finn said. As he saw Amanda’s eyes flash and Jonathan’s stubborn expression, he added, “When can we return with ye to the castle? Everyone has been worried about yer whereabouts.”
Amanda lifted an eyebrow. “Well, as much as I would wish ye to go, I cannae, as a healer, let ye do so in good faith. The wound is still too new. I have sown it twice, and I daenae wish to have to do it a third time. Let the wound close more, and I can remove the thread that binds it together. It should be only a few days.”
Finn nodded and looked at Jonathan, who twisted his mouth in thought for a moment. Now that he was awake, could he bear to be in her presence for a few days? He shrugged.
“I suppose that is sound advice.”
“Och, thank ye for bein’ so magnanimous, believin’ a woman might ken best.” Jonathan winced at the ire in her words.
He saw the other young woman step forward and put herself in front of Amanda slightly. He wanted to laugh at the apparent attempt to put a barrier between them.
Her face was bright, and her curls looked as if they had a life of their own. “I am Alina, since nay one saw fit to introduce me. I am Amanda’s friend and pupil. We are honored to have yer presence here, Laird.”
Jonathan could see the blush and the look in the eyes that he was used to seeing on nearly every young woman of his acquaintance. It reminded him somewhat of how his dog would look at him as he sat by the fire with her—such admiration. He knew why the women reacted the way he did, but he was not sure that he deserved it. However, he saw no such look in Amanda Robert’s eye, and he could feel the spark of challenge ignite in him.
“Alina. I am Jonathan.” He nodded his head in her direction. “Ye will have to forgive,” he gestured to his body and the bandaged wound.
Alina giggled, and he smirked when he saw Amanda roll her eyes behind her.
“Forgiven, of course, Laird. Now, surely ye must be hungry, Laird?”
Jonathan chuckled, and this time, it did not hurt as much. He was grateful.
“Ye daenae need always to call me Laird. Jonathan will do just fine.”
“Jonathan.” There was that sound he recognized as well—slow, languid tones, indicative of interest.
Jonathan’s eyes turned to Finn, who watched Alina, and he looked just a little bit crestfallen.
Och, so she has taken me man under her charms? Finn is so easily tamed.
Jonathan cleared his throat, hoping to remove himself from the situation. “I daenae suppose a healer could assist me with food? I find I am practically ravenous after so long without.”
Amanda nodded, and Finn stood tall. “Aye, good plan. I shall go and get word to the castle that all is well, but that ye are healin’. I will return tomorrow to see how ye fare.”
Alina said brightly, “And I shall walk with ye part of the way, Finn if it is nay trouble. I must return to me Faither afore the sun begins to set.”
Jonathan saw Finn stand up just a little bit taller. He nodded with a smile.
“Miss Roberts,” Finn said, grasping her hand. “Sinclair Clan thanks ye for yer powers of medicine. We would have nay Laird without ye.”
Amanda smiled, and Jonathan, for a moment, felt a little pang of anger that she had not yet bestowed her smile upon him. It was lovely, like a flower just beginning to bloom.
“Ye are very welcome, Finn. I am here any time ye need any sort of healin’ assistance.”
“Good. I will be back tomorrow, as I said. A good evenin’ to ye. And to ye, Laird.”
Jonathan waved him back before he could slip out the door. Finn knelt near to him. Jonathan watched as Alina drew Amanda into a conversation.
Jonathan whispered, “Finn, listen. Daenae tell too many people where I am located if ye must tell anyone at all. This attack was strange, and I feel a deep dread in me belly. Tell them only that I am safe and will return when I can.”
Finn nodded tightly, his expression grim. “Aye, a wise idea. Rest well, Laird. Ye should be safe here, tucked away in the wilderness.”
“Go now. Enjoy the young lassie’s smiles on yer way back to yer horse.” He winked at his friend.
Finn grinned and left with another goodbye to Amanda. The door shut behind them, and Amanda and Jonathan were left to look at one another in their absence. While looking at her was an enjoyable activity, his stomach was beginning to cave in on itself.
“Well, I suppose I shall have to impose upon ye for a few more days.”
“I suppose so.” Amanda returned to her work at the table before the fire, cutting and packaging. “I am certain we shall find some way to endure it well enough.”
He sighed and laid his head back on the pillow again. It was going to be a long few days. If only he could fall under a fever again.
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