“Ye can do this,” Shana Wilson whispered to herself. She tightened her fists and nodded with reassurance as she walked tentatively towards the Scots’ village’s storeroom. Holding her head high, she tried to keep out of the eyes of those around her. Her recent encounter with a man in the woods made the blood sing in her veins with excitement, and she feared it was written all over her face. She had to attempt to keep her expression as calm and normal as possible. The storeroom was situated on the side of her quiet village, and it was a place where everyone put their crops that could keep. She looked around at the scattering huts that stood nearby, with the village’s center a little higher on the crest of a small hill. There stood the well, and a few people were milling about there. She could spy Orla there talking to a young man. Shana smirked. So, she had not been wrong about where her cousin Orla had been that afternoon while she was working on her archery. A few children played, and some of the adults she had come to know so well were outside of their huts, washing or working in their small gardens. She sighed. Often, when she had been younger, she’d looked upon this very same scene and imagined that a dragon would suddenly fly down from the Heavens, its mouth open to breathe fire on those below, and all of them would have to run for safety. No one was hurt in these daydreams, of course, but it gave her something to think of.
It made the village something more of the daily growing prison where nothing ever happened. And yet, something had, and it was Shana’s secret all to herself. No one else had to know about it. It was all hers. She smiled to herself even as she looked out over her small and ever-narrowing world. It was no dragon this time, however, which had entered her sphere. This time, it was a stranger. A man named Logan from a far-off clan had come to her as if he was out of a dream. He needed help, and she was going to give it to him. Finally, something had happened, and something interesting was going on.
She couldn’t let the opportunity of being involved in it pass her by. She looked around at the village one more time. No one seemed to be paying her much mind, but she knew that the children were always nosing into each other’s business and could jump out at her at any time. As she stepped inside the dark stone room, she prayed that none of them were hiding behind the barrels and baskets ready for their friends to capture them. She crept inside when a pair of heavy arms grabbed and lifted her up into the air. She squealed in both surprise and a flash of fear. But then she saw and felt the skin of the arms, and she relaxed. Da. He put her down and turned her around, holding her shoulders. “What are ye doin’ in here, young archeress?” Shana smiled, for, despite her frustrations with her father, she loved him dearly.
He looked down at her with his dark eyes, grinning. Shana wracked her brain for an excuse. “I am simply searchin’ for somethin’ to take with me when I go back tae practicin’. An apple or somethin’ like that.” He nodded. “I see. We will be near out of apples afore the next harvest if ye keep takin’ them as targets.” He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. “Yer brothers are out in the fields today with me and Uncle Eamon.” “Practicin’ their swords?” Chuckling, he replied, “Nae, nae today.
Today they are learnin’ our farmin’ ways.” “Warriors turned farmers. It sounds like a very strange story, Da, and nae very excitin’.” “Strange, indeed.” She grabbed an apple from one of the nearby sacks and walked out into the bright sunshine with him. “Where is Ma, then?” “She is washin’ with the other ladies today. But I will see ye back at the house in a few hours, aye?” Shana’s heart was tight. Her father was kind and loving, yet she was angry at him for trapping her and keeping her away from the world. She knew that he wanted to protect her, but still, it hurt her. “Aye, ye will.
I will return. But Da,” she said as he was turning away. “Ye ken that I will want tae leave one day.” The words just poured out of her. It was not how she really wanted to put it, but she felt like she had no other choice. Now that the words were out, she had to stand strong and stick to them. She even lifted her shoulders and chin, ready for his angry words. He simply looked at her, a crinkle forming in his forehead. He lifted a hand to her cheek. “I ken, young lass.
I ken. But I hope that it is nae yet, for ye are far too precious tae me. Ye are like me tiny pearl, and I fear of puttin’ ye out intae the light in case someone else takes ye from me. Someone who doesnae deserve ye.” Shana was silent. The import of his words made tears come to her eyes. She knew that her father loved her, but he understood as well that he was keeping her, and she needed to leave. “Aye, Da. I can understand yer meanin’. But ye ken that without someone else or with someone else, I need me chance tae shine.
” He nodded, and after he kissed her on the cheek, he left without another word. Shana watched his back as he headed towards the field. She needed her chance to shine, and she wondered if the opportunity had now come to her. S CHAPTERONE hana stepped back into the forest, her leather bag full of food and her hands braced to raise her bow and arrow again at the sight of anything suspicious. Or anything else suspicious. As if the sight of a handsome young man with a mysterious past appearing suddenly in the woods had not been suspicious enough. No one had noticed her at the village, grabbing as much food as she could find to bring to him, yet she could feel her heart beating in her throat as her boots crunched over the grass. It was a strange thing to be bringing food to an unfamiliar young man who was not of her clan or her people. And yet, it had thrilled her with adventure. She would be the one to rescue this man from harm.
Shana could hear doubts fluttering through her mind, pushing her to question her choices. She set her chin in defiance and narrowed her eyes as if planning to shoot the doubts down with her arrows. Helping him had nothing to do with the fact that he was incredibly handsome, but more to do with the fact that he could be the way out of the forest, out of this life, and the way to help her find a new path in the world. She heard a stick crack, and she spun around, her arrow at the ready. “Lass,” Logan whispered, moving out from behind the trees, and she lowered her weapon as she crept toward him, placing the bag in his hand. He took it with a smile and sat down as he burrowed into it. “Ye are an angel. A rescuer.” Shana smirked. That was her title now; rescuer.
She let the pride of it wash over her. In her time at the village, she had done nothing much except learn to farm, fight, and shoot her bow and arrow. But never had she ever been allowed to use any of her skills, except for the farming, of course. She frowned. How dull had her life really become? “Sit, will ye nae?” Logan looked up at her, and for the first time, she could see that his eyes were green, the deep healthy green of a field of ready crops. She suddenly felt a loss for words she had never felt before in her life. Boys had never done anything of that sort to her, but now with Logan’s green eyes on her, she suddenly felt her mind go blank. Instead of saying anything, she sat next to him, and her dark skirts flooded around her. He grinned at her as he bit into his food, first choosing some dried meat and then bread and then fruit. She watched him eat with satisfaction, unable to take her eyes away from the sight.
Now that she was closer to him, he really was quite beautiful, and she had gathered from books that handsome men were often dangerous to women. Even her mother and aunt would say that but would only laugh and never explain. She wondered now if they hadn’t been right as she watched the smooth, tanned skin of his muscled throat as he swallowed and the way his arms bulged under his shirt where the sleeves had been rolled up. For a second, she was curious if beautiful men were the cause of some sort of illness, for, with each passing moment, she was growing warmer and warmer. “Are ye dangerous, Logan?” she asked quickly and then immediately regretted her question. Dangerous men would never admit they were dangerous. Just as murderers would never admit they were murderers. He still could be one. Logan paused in his eating and swallowed. “I dinnae ken what ye mean, lass, but if ye mean to ye, then aye.
If ye mean did I commit the crime I am runnin’ away from, then also aye. I am just a man who was wrongly accused.” Shana pursed her lips in thought and narrowed her eyes at him. She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, hoping the strange dizzy feeling would go away. “Tell me then. Tell me what has happened to ye.” Logan put down his food and glanced at her. He was quiet for a moment as if he was deciding whether or not she could handle the news. Shana kept his gaze. It was time for people to start taking her seriously.
She was twenty years old, after all. Her father wished her to stay a little girl, but it was time he knew that she no longer wanted to. She breathed out with relief that he thought her worthy as he began. “The laird of me clan had a second-in-command named Allan. He died at a feast we were havin’ at the McIntosh castle. It was a good celebration, and everyone went tae bed quite merry, but I decided tae stay awake longer. I had things tae think over.” Shana could see the sudden change in his expression. He looked suddenly tired and weighed down, and guessing that he was still quite young in years, the expression seemed oddly placed. He took a breath and stared off further into the woods.
“I left tae get to the highest part of the castle for a wee moment, just to get some air. Ye see, me wife died a week afore we were tae get married. Smallpox. It was over a year ago now, but it still feels raw tae me.” He looked at Shana, who felt her heart patter with sympathy at the sight of his earnest eyes. Poor man. He looked away again. “On me way back tae me own room, I heard somethin’ strange. Like fallin’. So I went tae see what it was, and I found Allan in one of the hallways, bleedin’ on the ground, attemptin’ tae make sounds.
” Shana exhaled with a rush. “What did ye do?” “I had tae help him. Allan was a good man.” Logan’s face tightened, and his muscular jaw clenched. “He had always been kind to me family. I didnae want tae lose him. But there was nothin’ I could do. I tried. I really did. But…” His voice trailed off, and Shana had the urge to reach out and touch his shoulder, to run her fingers along his sleeve to comfort him.
She had never seen a man so weighed down by life and the world. He took another breath and started again. “So, I spoke tae him for a wee while, about home. About the way the hills would look in the evenin’ sun and about his family. I had pulled him into me arms, and so the blood was everywhere. Seein’ the way he suffered, I couldnae take it anymore. I took out me dirk, and I…I finished what someone else had started. It was the best I could do to save him.” Shana was silent. So he had killed the man, but he claims it as a mercy killing? Can this be true? She watched him closely.
He was certainly honest-looking – how he spoke and how his face revealed all of his emotions. But her mother had always taught her never to be beholden to a man. Never let them trick her into doing something or believing something until the facts and the evidence are there. Shana remembered asking her mother, Rose, about her father, Sean, and how she would deal with him. Still, her mother had merely laughed and smiled and got that dreamy look in her eye she always had when her mother talked about her rather infamous father. Her aunt, Isabelle, was no help either, still entirely besotted with Uncle Eamon, even though she could hear each couple arguing loudly every so often. She and her cousin, Orla, would merely roll their eyes and think that it was just their parents who acted this way. “I see,” she said, still trying to summon suspicion. “What happened after that?”