Highlander’s Warrior Heart – Ann Marie Scott

Garia McLeish stared at her father, wondering if maybe she had heard him wrong. “Wot?” Laird Gareth McLeish drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. “Ye heard me, lass. Ye are tae be wed.” Garia knew this day would come eventually. It was her birthright, after all. As the eldest daughter of Laird McLeish, she was destined to become another laird’s wife, to carry on her clan’s bloodline through her marriage. She didn’t think it would come this soon. She was barely in her eighteenth year, though her ma had wed when she was only in her sixteenth. If Garia knew she was to stay in the clan she had known all her life, the declaration would not be so shocking. “Who?” she forced out. There had been a parade for months of visiting lairds and their sons, but none had impressed her da enough to give his daughter to them. The laird’s fingers stopped their drumming, and he cleared his throat. “’Tis Caelan Murray. He is tae be mah successor.

” “Nay,” she whispered. Caelan Murray was ten years her senior and one of her father’s closest advisors. He had assumed the role when his own father had died fighting alongside their laird, saving his life. Garia had heard the story more than once, and there was no surprise when Caelan had taken up his father’s position. While any woman would want to have Caelan as their husband, Garia did not. She had seen his brutality toward animals, their clan, and his own mother. She wanted nothing to do with the Scot. “Please, I dinnae wish tae marry him.” “Ye dinnae have a choice, lass,” her father said. Garia turned her eyes to her mother, Isla, who was watching the proceedings with a worried look on her face.

“Please, Ma,” she said, tears threatening her eyes. “I cannae marry someone like him! I cannae!” Isla looked at Gareth, placing her hand on his forearm. “Perhaps we should think about this, Gareth.” “I have,” he replied, frowning. “This is not for debate. I am the laird here, and mah daughter will marry the Scot I choose!” She squeezed his arm, shooting a pleading look at her daughter. “Then Garia will have tae find a way tae be happy with him, I suppose.” Garia let out a gasp. Even her mother was against her! “Why cannae I pick mah husband? I have tae live with him for the rest of mah life!” “Gaira, enough!” Garia flinched at Gareth’s harsh tone, clasping her hands before her. “I’m sorry.

” He clenched his jaw, clearly upset that he had to raise his voice at her. Being the firstborn, they held a close relationship. He had taught her how to hunt, how to wield a sword, and never once told her that he wished for a son instead of a daughter, as many lairds would have done. She had his dark auburn hair and his temper to boot, which was why they fought often. Garia loved him, but she couldn’t stand idly by and wed this brute! “Lass,” he said finally, his voice heavy, “’tis how this is tae be. Caelan is a fine Scot. He will be a fine successor and a good husband tae ye. I wouldnae expect anything less for mah daughter.” Garia did not agree with his assessment of Caelan. She had watched him one time whip a warrior for disobeying him, the vicious brutality nearly too much to bear watching.

Even his own warriors were afraid of him, and while he had her father fooled, Garia knew there were those in the clan that didn’t care to cross the Scot either. Gareth ran their clan with an iron fist but was always fair to his clan members. She doubted that Caelan would be the same. The Scot demanded respect. Gareth had earned the respect he had of the clan for being fair and impartial. “Everything will work out, Garia,” Isla said softly. There was worry in her eyes; Garia swallowed back the emotion that was threatening to surface. Her mother was worried, which meant she hadn’t agreed as readily to the plan. Garia nodded quickly and quit the great hall, opting for the safety of her chamber. In the evening, she would usually spend time with her sisters, but not tonight.

Tonight, she wanted to be alone. Garia fell onto the bed and curled up in the thick fur, the tears finally falling from her eyes. She was to wed Caelan. She could already picture herself seated next to him, in her mother’s chair, with him indulging her with a laugh whenever she tried to interfere with his rule of the clan. He was not going to allow her to have any opinions at all—except perhaps with her marriage. Garia buried her face into her pillow, crying harder. At least she would be able to stay in the clan, even if she was miserable. What would their future look like? What about their bairns? Garia shivered at the thought of bedding the brute. It wasn’t as if she had a choice. He would want to carry on his bloodline and hers, providing an heir for the clan’s future.

Garia sat up, watching the fire as it crackled in the fireplace, warming her chamber. She would have to be resigned to the fact that she was going to wed Caelan and be his wife, for nothing changed her father’s mind once he set it. One day, she would be the lady of this keep, and Caelan would be the laird. He would have complete control of the clan and her future. The thought made her sick to her stomach. T 1 revor McAuley nudged his horse alongside the wagon, glad that the rain had finally let up. They had another half a day’s ride before they reached their destination, and he was more than ready for a pint of whiskey. It would at least warm his cold, aching bones. The cold wind was settling on the moors, which meant the winter months would be harsh. “Thinking of a warm, willing wench?” Trevor smirked as his laird maneuvered his horse to his side.

“Dinnae let yer wife hear that sort of talk. She will box yer ears again.” Laird Cameron McDougal grinned at his second-in-command. “Aye, ye’re correct, but I think mah punishment will be far worse this time. I will be sleeping in the stables again.” Trevor shook his head, a smirk on his lips. That only happened once, and they had shared a bottle of whiskey that night between them as he had listened to Cameron lament on upsetting the true laird of the McDougal clan. The laird had talked far into the night about how she had taken years off his life. Trevor had only passed the bottle to him, and when he had fallen into a stupor, he had made sure the laird’s head found a safe place to land. Cameron’s wife, Lady Katherine McDougal, was the true laird of the McDougal clan.

She had trained with one of the best lairds in all of Scotland and ruled her clan with an iron fist for many years—though since giving birth to three bairns, she had relinquished many of the duties to her husband. Now she rode in the wagon with their eldest, Bram, who was just shy of his eighth year; four-year-old Gretna, who was the spitting image of her mother; and the newest arrival to the McDougal clan, Arrena, who had just celebrated her first year. Trevor enjoyed spending time with the bairns. He would be the one that showed the future laird of the clan how to wield a sword, bringing him up to be a warrior first as his father was. Trevor couldn’t wait to train Bram. But for now, he had a great deal of responsibility as the second-in-command. He was to first always provide counsel to his laird and lady. He oversaw the warriors that protected the keep and the boundaries of the McDougal land. He was to ensure that they could successfully defend the borders. His service was to both Cameron and Katherine, and he would protect them with his life or die trying.

If and when he and Cameron rode into battle together, he would be at his side to ensure that he got home safely. He would take the sword swipes, the threats, and eliminate them. On the battlefield, the laird must always be protected. That was what Cameron had taught him long ago, when Trevor was a young warrior at a loss of who he would be protecting next. “Nay! Hold yer sword aloft! If ye hold it like that, yer head will be severed from yer neck before ye can blink.” Sweat poured down Trevor’s face as he did as Cameron was asking, his arms trembling from the exertion. “Good,” Cameron finally said with a nod. “Ye might become a warrior yet. If ye cannae protect yerself, then ye cannae protect the laird.” The warrior picked up his own sword, holding it out to Trevor.

“Come, fight me. See if ye can get tae mah laird.” Trevor swung his sword in a mighty roar, but soon he was on his back again, with Cameron looming over him. “Again,” the warrior said, his jaw clenched. “Again.” “I dinnae think I will be sharing that bottle with ye again, Laird.” Cameron rested his hands on the pommel of his saddle, his grin fading. “’Tis enemy territory that we are going into, Trevor.” Trevor straightened. The McLeish clan had been an enemy of the McDougals for a number of years until Katherine had successfully brokered a peace treaty between the two clans.

Before that, there had been much bloodshed between the two clans, many Scots lost as a result. The legends stated that the animosity started between two lairds long ago, when one spurned the hand of one of their daughters after he had lain with her. Trevor hadn’t fought in any of the battles since becoming second-in-command, as the McDougal clan lived in relatively peaceful times. It was hard not to have a thirst for blood every once in a while. Even the warriors he led had gotten lax in their fighting skills, tired of sparring with each other instead of the thrill of the battle. Cameron had said more than once that it was better that way, but Trevor wasn’t so certain he believed the laird. After all, Cameron used to be a second-in-command to and just as bloodthirsty as Trevor was. Still, he wouldn’t trade anything for his position or the clan he served. “I dinnae trust the laird just yet,” Cameron continued, a frown on his face. “I dinnae want tae bring mah wife or mah bairns, but she insisted.

” Once Katherine insisted, there was nothing that could stop her wishes. Trevor had learned that in his first few days at her side. “Wot is the plan?” he asked instead. Cameron let out a long breath. “The plan is tae ensure that our clan is safe. I need tae have this alliance strengthened. I need tae ensure that I dinnae have tae worry about mah bairns’ future.” Trevor knew that Cameron worried about that daily. Now that he was a father, he had seen a change in his old friend, one that had been needed. Now Trevor had taken up where Cameron had left off, though this time he served the Laird and Lady McDougal.

“I wilnae let anything happen tae them.” Cameron nodded. “It will be important to keep any threats before us, Trevor. I will expect a report every morn that we are here.” “Aye,” Trevor replied, lifting his hand to call the warriors closer to the wagon now that they were seeing huts along the boundary of the land. When Cameron had first told him that they would be making the journey for the eldest daughter’s betrothal, Trevor had spent two weeks preparing. He had pored over his plans, ensuring that every possible scenario had been plotted out. Archers flanked the front and the back of the party, their eyes scanning the horizon constantly. Trevor had also put some of his best warriors around the wagons that were carrying the family as well as the goods for the new bride, a gesture of goodwill between the two clans. While the roads were well traveled, there were bands of rogue Scots that would love nothing more than to have an easy go at the goods.

Not only that, but they had thwarted an attempt on Katherine’s life years ago, one that Trevor would like to have back given that it was one of her own council members that had wanted her dead. After a few years, the wound still ached to know that one of their own would attempt an innocent woman all because he didn’t believe she could rule a clan. She was doing a right fine job at it in Trevor’s opinion—far too good, in fact, considering they had not fought in a skirmish in well over a year. “Ye know I am putting all mah faith in ye,” Cameron said softly. “Katherine says that I cannae be a warrior this time. I have tae be the laird, and as much as I detest the thought, she’s right.” “Aye, she is,” Trevor smirked. “But she also knows she cannae take the warrior out of ye.” His laird chuckled. “Aye, she cannae.

” “Wot is that?” Both men turned to find Katherine watching them, baby Arrena in her lap. “I was just saying, dear wife, that I cannae take the warrior out of me.” Her eyes narrowed. “Aye, but he wilnae get a chance tae be one this time around. Leave it tae yer men, Cameron.” “Aye, mah love,” the laird responded. Trevor rolled his eyes and urged his horse forward to talk with the lead archer about watching the huts as they passed. There were too many places that one could be hiding, too many opportunities to take a clean, easy shot. He would not breathe easy until they were out of this danger. Trevor drew his sword from the scabbard at his back and held it across his lap, his keen gaze watching the huts as they passed.

All his life, he had served Clan McDougal, first as a warrior apprentice and then as a warrior himself, under the reign of the former laird. Trevor had carried out duties that he was not proud of during that time, and had more blood on his hands than he was willing to admit. But when Katherine took over, the shift for the better had begun, and he had pledged his loyalty to her as he trained under Cameron, one of the clan’s best warriors. Now his sword skills were better than ever, and when he had been offered the second-incommand position, Trevor had vowed to be better than his predecessor. He owed his life to the clan, and he would die serving it. They rode a ways before Trevor loosened his pent-up breath, falling back to flank Cameron. “I dinnae think that will be the only time I forget tae breathe.” “I never do,” Cameron murmured as his eyes remained on his family. “One day, Trevor, ye will understand why a Scot can never truly be settled in his life when he has a lass by his side—a lass that he must protect.” It was Trevor’s turn to chuckle.

“Aye, but I dinnae care tae know that anytime soon.” He had no wish to have a wife or bairns in his life. Not while he served the laird and lady. When a family came along, it meant that a warrior needed to choose, and Trevor wasn’t ready to choose between his sword and a family. His sword was his family. “Trevor!” Trevor grinned as Bram leaned against the wagon. “I want tae ride with ye.” Trevor reached out and pulled the young lad into his saddle, settling him in front of him with the approval of his father. “Here,” he told him, placing the sword carefully across his lap. “Dinnae let this fall.

” “I won’t,” Bram replied gravely, balancing the sword with his knees. “Do ye think ye will use it?” “I hope not tae,” Trevor laughed, loosening his grip on the reins. “I am growing concerned that ye prefer Trevor over yer own da,” Cameron said dryly as he glanced at his heir. “Nay,” Bram said, touching the hilt of the sword. “Trevor just lets me have more fun.” Both laughed at that. “’Tis true,” Cameron admitted, “but only because yer ma doesnae watch what Trevor does.” “I cannae,” Katherine called out, a smile on her face. “Trevor frightens me. I dinnae know if he is a good model for Bram.

” “I trust him with mah life,” Cameron added, winking at his wife. “The worst thing that Bram will learn is how tae properly drink his whiskey.” Trevor’s neck flushed as Katherine’s gaze narrowed. “I think we are a long way from drinking whiskey, Husband.” “Not soon enough,” Cameron groaned. “Come, let us get this journey complete so we can have that dram of whiskey.”

.

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