Highlander’s Lesser Evil – Adamina Young

But that is all we have!” the man cried as he fell to his knees. “Please. My wife is pregnant and starving. She and the babe wilnae make it if ye take this from us!” “Ye should have thought of that before ye tried to withhold.” Raising his hand, Teague backhanded him, and the man fell to the floor. Sobbing in fear, the younger woman quickly ran to him. When Teague lifted his hand again, Theo reached out and grabbed it. “We have what we want,” he said coldly. “We have more houses to search, and I wilnae tolerate taking up time so ye can slap some silly woman.” “Oh, I will do more than slap her. Ye see the curves on her?” Teague grinned nastily. Theo’s stomach turned. The rounded hips of a woman carrying another man’s baby were not for anyone to leer over. “Which will take up even more time,” Theo said. “Save yer lustful thoughts for the lass waiting to warm yer bed tonight.

However, there must be some repercussions for the man’s lying tongue. I shall meet ye at the next house.” Theo pulled out the horsewhip and nodded. “Go on. I wish to finish this business in time for supper.” “Ye’re a cold bastard, Theo. Just like yer father,” Teague chuckled. “Let’s go, men. Leave Theo to his pleasures.” Schooling his features, he showed none of his disgust as Teague and the men trickled out of the house.

Once he was certain that he was alone, he lowered the whip. “I cannae explain now. There is no time. But if ye will scream as though I am striking ye, then I will make certain that food comes yer way.” The two looked at him in bewilderment, and Theo raised the whip. Immediately, the man screamed, and his wife cried. Theo waited a beat. “One more time.” Again, the two did as he asked. Their terror was real.

“That should be enough. Later tonight, I will return. There will be no knock at the door, so ye must check every hour before dawn. I will return some of the food. I cannae return all of it, but I will do my best. If the guards see the food before ye bring it in, the consequences will fall on yer head, so ye must not allow that to happen. Do ye understand?” The man glanced at his wife and nodded. “Good. The guards wilnae check yer residence for a while, so ye need not fear another attack until the spring. Harvest will be more plentiful, and ye will have more to share.

I must ask that ye not tell a soul what I have done.” “I don’t understand,” the wife whispered. “Why are ye doing this? Yer father is the laird. Ye are…” “Just like him?” Theo answered with a grimace. “If my father knew that his son was not just like him, I would not see the dawn. The only hope for us is to continue with appearances. Ye will tell no one of this night.” “My brother…” the man said hoarsely. “Ye killed him a year ago.” Theo desperately wished he could tell the man that he remembered his brother, or that his brother was safe.

In some cases, he was able to smuggle those marked for death out until it was safe for them to return. Only those he trusted most knew what he was doing and would testify to the executions that never happened. His father never questioned the absence of bodies. He was already thirsting for the next victim. But he didn’t dare tell this man that because there were times when he couldn’t save them. He had enough blood on his hands to damn him for all eternity. There would be nothing to save him from that, but there were still people here that he could save. He couldn’t take much more of this. People were dying around him because of his father. It was time to put an end to the madness.

“I am sorry for that,” he said as tears welled up in the man’s eyes. “I save those that I can. He may be gone, but for yer wife and yer unborn, this is all I can offer for now.” “Thank ye,” the wife whispered. “When ye are laird, there may be hope.” Without a word, Theo turned and left to stop Teague and his men from terrorizing the next dozen or so people. He wanted to believe that his father had somehow found the darkest souls in the Highlands and gave them power within the guard, but he feared that it was his father’s blackened soul that ignited the evil in others. What would he do when he looked at the reflection in the water and saw that same evil staring back at him? A man—a laird—had to have heirs, but Theo could never be a father. Not if his only example had been responsible for the terrifying scars that ran over his arms and down his back. And how could he be a husband when he watched his father beat down his mother? No, Theo didn’t have that luxury.

When he wed, it would be for duty. His nights would be for the good of the clan and not for pleasure. And when he had a son, he would send them somewhere safe, where they could be raised by a kind heart and learn good leadership qualities. This he could offer his people. A future no longer tainted by Patrick MacDougal. But for now, he had to find a way of ridding the world of his father. T 1 he skies were gray over the otherwise green land, and a chill had settled over the people. Most of them were dressed in threadbare cloaks and torn gloves as they toiled away at the land to prepare it for new growth. Despite the meager environment, they were working with smiles on their faces and whistles on their lips. Theo was covered in dirt and grime as he helped one of the older members of the clan plow through the mud.

The last of the snow and frost had melted weeks ago and would soon be ripe. “That’d be the last row,” Gregory grunted as he walked over and handed him a cup of water. “I thank ye for yer help, Theo. I mean, Laird.” “‘Tis all right, Gregory.” He was still getting used to being a laird himself, so he couldn’t blame his clan for still adjusting. After all, there was usually fanfare that came with the transfer of power. The elder would die, there would be a funeral, and then a feast as the heir took over. Sometimes the king attended so the new laird could swear fealty, but it was just a formality. In this case, Theo traveled to court and returned with a letter from the king, giving him the authority to overthrow his father.

King Edward had also given him permission to execute him, but it hadn’t been a direct order, and it was a task Theo found he couldn’t carry out. His people were suspicious. They only knew the son who had carried out his father’s orders. They didn’t know that for years, Theo had been doing his best to undermine his father, so now that he was laird, the reputation had followed. He needed to win them over, and this was how. He would show them that they were on the same side and wanted the same things. Right now, Theo wanted to know that his people prospered again, and that started in the fields. And with Loch Moran. “Laird,” Thomas called from the side of his field. His sword caught the light of the sun streaming through the clouds.

Gregory immediately bowed his head and started to lower his frail body to his knees. “Gregory,” Theo reminded him softly, so he didn’t startle the terrified man, “ye doonae kneel to me, and so ye doonae kneel to the guards. The only kneeling ye are to do is to the king, and I see no kings here.” The older man nodded, but still couldn’t meet his gaze. Theo clapped him on the back and headed to meet one of his guards. Many of them were growing bountiful off his father’s harsh rule and rebelled when he made sweeping changes over the amount of food goods that came to the keep from the people. He’d put down the rebellion, those still loyal to his father, quickly and harshly so that there were no questions, but Thomas was one of the good ones. They’d grown up together. Thomas was one of the few boys that his father allowed him to play with, and when they entered the guard to train, they remained fast friends. When Theo needed a right-hand man, he’d asked Thomas immediately.

The man agreed staunchly and with some relief when Theo came into power. “Thomas,” Theo greeted. “Is my brother here yet?” After meeting his half-brother for the second time last month, he’d agreed to let Hamish meet their father. Few people knew that Patrick MacDougal was still alive and in good health, but Hamish had built his life on the hatred of their father and on Theo as well. Theo also knew that he wasn’t going to hate the look on his father’s face when he realized that his bastard son, the one he’d nearly beaten to death two decades ago, was now a laird in one of the most powerful alliances in the Highlands. “Aye, and Lady Grace as well.” Thomas grinned. “Is she really the hellion everyone says she is?” “That hellion exposed the Lady MacSeaver and the Armstrong boy for the murderous traitors that they were. She isnae a hellion, Thomas. She is a hero.

” “Aye, Laird. They will be here within the hour.” “Do I have time to bathe and change?” “I have already asked for a bath to be drawn for ye.” Theo nodded. “Good man. See to it that Gregory makes it back to his house all right and has food for the next few days.” Many of those in need were still reluctant to come to the keep for their meals even though he’d opened the Great Hall for all his people and not just the guards. Most were still too scared to take advantage. Thomas nodded, and Theo strode toward the keep. It felt strange to look forward to seeing family, but Theo had not seen his brother since they’d nearly died together at the hands of Lady Beth’s men.

He’d been busy since then, bringing news to court and then wedding his hellion bride. Marriage. Just the thought of it made him grimace. But to see his brother again? He was very much looking forward to that. With fifteen minutes to spare, Theo, washed and dressed, met Hamish Hamilton and Grace at the steps of his keep. They traveled with only four guards since this was a private affair, but Theo had a feeling that beneath that billowing dress, Grace was armed to the teeth. The jeweled sword that Hamish had made for her as their wedding present hung by her side. “Brother,” Theo warmly greeted as he walked over and clasped the man’s hand. They were both still getting used to the idea of being a family, but Hamish graced him with a genuine smile. “And the lovely Lady Grace.

Do ye regret wedding the ugly one yet?” Hardly ugly, Hamish growled. Although they shared blood, they were complete opposites —Hamish with his golden hair and dark eyes, and Theo with his dark hair and blue eyes. Theo was a little taller, but they had the same muscular build, and Grace claimed that they shared a chin although Theo couldn’t see it. Neither could Hamish. “Ye do realize that when ye fall in love, Hamish will tease ye endlessly about it as revenge for all the torture ye put him through,” Grace said affectionately. Hamish helped her off the horse, and she kissed him on the cheek. “I have no time for love,” Theo sighed, “so I am afraid that is one revenge I wilnae be able to give ye. But there is another that I can satisfy.” Immediately, Hamish scowled and glanced at Grace. “I told her that I didnae want her to see him.

I wilnae have that man’s poisonous tongue say one thing about her…but she wilnae agree.” “Nay, I can imagine that she wilnae, but she is a strong woman, and she will know that while vile, his filth holds no power unless she grants it to him. If yer wish is to settle in yer chamber and eat—” “Nay,” Hamish interrupted. “I want to do this now. I want to enjoy my visit with ye, and I doonae want this hanging over my head.” Privately, Theo wanted to tell him that he needed not see Patrick at all, but his words were sure to fall on deaf ears. He couldn’t blame Hamish. While he hated growing up in Patrick’s violent shadow, bleeding from the many wounds inflicted by his father, Theo knew in his heart that he could never trade places with Hamish. Knowing where he came from gave him the strength to be the leader the MacDougals needed now. “Follow me,” he said with some resignation.

The next scene would not be pretty. He’d had a lifetime to grow callous against his father’s vile tongue. It would be no surprise for Hamish, but despite Grace’s warrior spirit, she’d been raised in a family who loved and cherished her. It would appall her to see the kind of man who had spawned her husband. “I’d had Father placed in the dungeons while I converted one of the guest suites. I realize that it is more than he deserves, but it makes things easier for me. For a while, we were still finding guards sympathetic to him, so I would rather keep them in the dungeons and keep him where he doesnae have access to them.” “Ye fear he will try to take power back?” “He cannae be laird again. King Edward would never allow it, but he can make certain that someone he can control is in power. I fear my clan wilnae survive another of his reign,” Theo said as he curled his lip in disgust.

It still pained him to think of the people he couldn’t save, the ones who starved to death to keep their children alive. Once Loch Moran was secure, he was going to move those children to the loch, where they could form happier memories and grow up knowing they were safe. Winding up the stairs, they stopped at the otherwise deserted wing. There were only a few he trusted to stand guard over his father, and he still placed two at a time to make certain that if one fell for his father’s manipulations, the other would alert Theo. The secret corridors leading to his father’s room had been sealed. There were bars on the window and three locked steel gates separating his father from the rest of the castle. Only he had the key to open the last cell door. Otherwise, there was an opening for food and water. Once a day, he allowed his father to walk in the courtyard under an armed escort while a guard searched his chambers, and a servant cleaned it. It was tedious, but it helped ease his conscience to do right as a son and do right for his clan.

If his father ever dared, he would find that Theo would choose the clan over him. He hoped that day would never come. Nodding at the two guards, he pulled out the keys to unlock the first gate. “Anything to report?” “No, Laird. All is quiet.” It had taken time for them to stop referring to Patrick as laird or to even refer to him as Theo’s father. They had settled on referring to him as the prisoner. “Thank ye. We will only be a few minutes.” Theo held the gate open for Hamish and Grace and closed it behind them, repeating the action for the next one until they arrived at Patrick’s final gate.

This one, he would not open. As predicted, Patrick sat at his chair, staring out the window. “I have nothing to say to ye, and I have no desire to see the traitor that is my son.” “Seems to me that ye should be thankful,” Hamish responded quietly. “If it were me, I would have let ye in the dungeons to rot.” Patrick whipped his head around, eyes blazing. “Ye, the spawn of the whore. Have ye come to overthrow yer brother? Perhaps ye are more like me than I imagined.” “He is nothing like ye!” Grace snapped suddenly, garnering Patrick’s attention. Hamish immediately realized what she’d done and placed a steady arm around her waist.

“‘Tis true,” Hamish said grimly. “I am more like my brother than my father. He presides over his people with a just nature and a protective arm. I do the same.” Patrick raised his eyes brows. “My bastard is a laird? Over which clan?” There was something in his tone Theo didn’t like. Not nearly enough surprise or anger. His gut tightened. This is all an act. Someone has been feeding him information! Hamish caught on as well and narrowed his eyes.

“I think ye already know that answer.” “I may have heard a rumor or two,” Patrick said with an evil grin. “There are more MacDougals loyal to me than my son would like to think. So ye are a Hamilton now, and ye married the Sinclair hellion. I had plans for her to wed Theo, ye know, before I learned that my son has a limp spine. I’m sure his cock is no different, or he’d have a brood of whelp bastards by now. It seems the lovely girl chose the son with more virility. Aye, I think the bastard does take after me.” Grace opened her mouth, but Theo shook his head. If he had any idea that Patrick had sighted Grace for Theo, that meant his father might have had an obsession with the woman himself, and he would never have allowed Grace to see him.

The less she interacted with him, the better. “The last time that I was here, ye claimed it would have been better that I’d never been born. Now that I have formed an alliance with my brother, ye may wish that true now more than ever. He may not have the stomach to see ye dead, but if the task ever needs doing, trust that I am more than willing to take up the sword,” Hamish said in a casual tone. “But that is where my thirst for violence ends. I protect what is mine. Ye bloody anything that is yers. If ye see me again, it will be in yer last moments on this earth.” Without another word, Hamish turned and guided Grace out of the chambers. Patrick locked eyes with Theo.

“Has MacSeaver declared war over Loch Moran?” “The business of this clan is no longer yer concern. If I discover that anyone is passing along information to ye, ye can say goodbye to yer cushy chambers and die in the dungeons below.” “I havenae had my walk in the gardens yet!” Patrick bellowed. “And ye wilnae as punishment for disregarding the rules,” he said. “The guards will bring ye supper, and perhaps ye can go out tomorrow.” It cost him less and less every day when he turned from his father and left him to the rage of his temper. Unlocking the gates, he guided Hamish and Grace out before turning to the guards. “Someone is feeding him information. There will be a reward for whoever comes forth with evidence. If I discover the traitor within twenty-four hours, they will only be banished rather than executed.

After that, I may no longer feel generous.” The two guards exchanged a look and nodded. Theo was confident that he’d have a name by morning. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt such evil from someone before,” Grace whispered with a shudder. “How did ye stand living here?” “When my father couldn’t beat me into submission anymore, I lived with the knowledge that I had to be smart if I wanted to survive as his heir. There were things I had to do to appease him, things I could not figure a way out of, and they will haunt me ‘til the day that I die.”


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