Pledged to a Highlander – Donna Fletcher

HER SKİN FELT like the softest velvet and was as smooth as the finest silk. He couldn’t stop touching her. He wanted to caress and kiss every inch of her lovely naked body. She belonged to him and only him and that was the only thought that consumed him when he slid inside her and took what belonged to him. Her virginity. She was his and his alone, no other had the right. He had waited. They had waited for this moment and he relished it. Her sheath was snug, though it opened for him, welcoming him, accepting him, hugging him as he slipped deeper and deeper inside her. “I love you, Royden—always.” He cherished those words, held on to them, let them seep deep inside him as his manhood felt the tight barrier that blocked him—her maidenhead. She was his to claim, always had been, and once he broke the barrier she’d be his always. They would be forever joined as one. Even when separated, they’d still remain connected through this special moment when they sealed their vows. He looked into her eyes and fell more deeply in love if that was possible, her beautiful smile lighting his heart as she whispered, “Come to me.

I’m yours.” Royden woke with a start, jolting up in bed angry to wake from the dream he’d had often in the past five years. Five long years of thinking, dreaming, fighting to get home to Oria, the woman he’d loved since he’d been young and who had loved him—always. He didn’t know if she had survived the attack on their wedding day that had torn not only them apart but his whole family, his whole clan. The last time he had seen her, she was helping women and children into the safety of the keep. Her fate was unknown to him and he ached to know what had happened to her. He had no idea if his da had died or survived. He and his brother, Arran, had spent about a year together before they’d been separated. He had no knowledge of what happened to him. And there was his sister, Raven, a handful of a lass.

If anyone could survive, she could and he hoped she had since he had learned that she’d never been found. From the moment he’d been captured, he and Arran had talked of escaping and returning home, finding their family and seeking revenge on whoever was responsible for the devastation to their clan. They’d been taken to the most barren part of Scotland where few men braved to go, the land desolate and unforgiving. At times they’d been transported on ships to fight on foreign soil, though they were always returned home to Scotland. They weren’t given a chance once dumped in a battle. It was fight or die. He ran his right hand through his dark hair that barely touched his shoulders. He swung his legs off the edge of the rumpled bed and grabbed the black leather cuff off the low chest next to the bed. He slipped it on the stub of where his left hand should have been and used his teeth to help tighten the leather strips that kept it securely in place. It had taken time for him to get used to having only one hand and it hadn’t been easy.

The day of the attack had been seared into his memory. How could he forget it? It was meant to be his wedding day. He stood and reached for his shirt. He had grown thicker with muscle over the last few years, his chest and arms heavy with it and his legs as well. Muscle wasn’t the only thing he had gained. He’d also gained scars, some small ones and others large, from all the battles he’d been in. None, though, were as deep as the scar on his heart. It tormented him that he had failed not only to protect Oria, but to wed her, make her his wife, seal their union. That chance had passed him by and was no more. Not that he didn’t dream or hope that by some miracle Oria had survived and when he was finally able to return home, she’d be there waiting for him.

He turned at the rustle of blankets and shook his head at the woman sleeping in his bed. He hated that after a while he couldn’t deny himself the pleasures of a willing woman. He had a need, especially after battle, and women were supplied to the men in abundance. He seldom paired with the same woman. There were no feelings when he coupled just a need that had to be satisfied. Still, his need troubled him and when he saw that some women had more need than he had known, he wondered, with him gone, what Oria might have done to assuage her need. Not that he would blame her. If anyone was to blame, it was he himself. It was a deep source of anger and guilt, failing to keep her from harm, that he harbored. One that would not leave him soon, if ever.

He added a few logs to the fire pit in the middle of the hut after he finished dressing and without a word to the woman he had been so intimate with last night, whose name he did not know, he left. Royden bundled his wool cloak around him, the pre-dawn day cold. While spring had arrived, it was still cold this high in the Highlands. His breath came out in large puffs and his stump ached as was its way when too cold. He walked through the village, if it could be called that, the area comprised of several huts, a few storage sheds, and a longhouse. The amount of warriors that occupied the area had thinned of late and there was talk the few who remained were to be dispersed to other groups. He and Arran’s plans to attempt to escape had quickly been brought to an end when all the captives were told the rules. Attempt to escape and one of your clansmen will suffer for it, attempt again and your clansmen will die, succeed at escaping and you will be hunted down and you and a family member will die. It wasn’t until one brave captive attempted an escape that he and Arran knew escape wasn’t a viable option. The man was found and returned and all watched as he’d been forced to pick who in his clan that had been taken captive with him would be punished.

The man chosen was left chained outside for two days and nights in the cold without food, given only a hot brew. He survived, though barely. The captives had been given an offer of freedom. They would join the band of mercenaries and fight, earning their freedom, but that would take years. Or they could remain with the group and share in its wealth. Sometimes if one was lucky, a captive was released without explanation, though that was a seldom occurrence. That’s when Royden had begun to discover the power and influence of the person who had forged a band of unwanted warriors into highly-skilled mercenaries for hire. He entered the longhouse to find Platt there. He didn’t like the man. He had been the one who led the attack on Royden’s clan, leaving several of his clansmen dead or wounded.

He had discovered that Platt owed some kind of allegiance to the overall leader of the mercenaries and followed his command without question. “I will miss our morning talks,” Platt said with a snarling grin. Royden sat on the bench opposite Platt at one of the many tables, not because he wanted to, but because it was closest to the fire pit. He didn’t acknowledge his humor, he and Platt having shared no morning talks only silence when they had eaten. Unless he was going home, what did it matter where he was sent? Still, he asked, “Where am I to be sent this time?” Platt retained his smile. “Aren’t you going to miss me?” “You’re not going with me?” Royden asked, actually enjoying the small bit of good news. Platt laughed, a seldom heard sound from him. “You really want to take me home with you?” Royden wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly or if he misunderstood. He eyed Platt skeptically, but said nothing. “He has no use for you anymore.

You are free to return home,” Platt said and raised his tankard, toasting Royden’s good fortune. Royden was still skeptical, Platt not always truthful, and he also wondered if he was possibly dreaming and yet to wake. “Can’t spare you a horse, but I can see you have food for a while, since it will take you a good month or more to reach home.” Platt shook his head at Royden’s skeptical glare. “It’s the truth and I’m glad to be rid of you.” “My brother, Arran?” “I don’t know about him, but with you being set free I don’t see why he wouldn’t be as well, but then again, he could be dead for all I know.” “That’s an outright lie,” Royden challenged. “You know more than you ever say.” “The reason I’ve survived all this time. I keep my mouth shut.

” Royden stood. He didn’t care if his belly was growling. If he was free, he wanted to leave now. He wanted to get home. “I’ll get that food and leave now,” Royden said and went to turn. “Royden.” He stopped. “A price was paid for your release. A steep one that few, if any, would pay. You’ll need to remember that one day.

” Royden turned and walked away. Never had Platt offered any information. Why did he do so now? He didn’t bother to ask who it was who had bought his freedom. Platt wouldn’t tell him. He’d probably get satisfaction out of not telling him. He wondered, though, who had paid a steep price for his release, what that price was, and why had it been paid? ROYDEN STOOD LOOKİNG at the MacKinnon keep. He had approached it from the woods, not sure what he’d find. Once he had caught sight of it, he had to get closer, had to finally get home. The stone keep stood tall and proud and didn’t appear as neglected as he feared it might. Although he didn’t know what he’d find inside.

For now, it didn’t matter. He was home. After five long, terrible years he was home. He turned and looked over the village and the sight disturbed him. The cottages were in disrepair and he saw no one tending to chores or lingering about. He didn’t even hear the bark of a dog. “Few have remained, but the few who have will be happy to see you. Happy to have a chieftain once again.” Royden turned to see Bethany standing just outside the open doors of the keep. “You stayed,” he said pleased to see a familiar face, family of sorts.

“Someone had to be here if your sister returned,” she said. Tears glistened in her eyes that had aged since Royden had last seen her. Her hair had turned completely gray and she appeared thinner, a slight stoop to her shoulders, but the broad smile she wore let him know how happy she was to see him. “My da, Bethany?” he asked, though feared her response. “I never saw what became of him.” “Has Raven returned?” Royden asked anxiously, hoping for good news while trying to accept the inevitable—his da was dead. Bethany shook her head. “No, she hasn’t been here and I’ve heard nothing about her.” “The warriors who remained here probably frightened her away,” Royden surmised or more hoped, giving credence that his sister had survived. “The warriors left about a month ago and have not returned.

They were not the same warriors who first remained here. Warriors have come and gone over the years. They all did little while here. Then he came one day.” Bethany shuddered. “A beast of a man. A metal helmet concealed his face and I was glad of it. Something told me if I looked upon him I’d wither and die. His own warriors—the ones who arrived with him and there were many—kept their distance except for one man. He was called Trevor and he did the beast’s bidding.

” She shuddered again, her whole body quaking. “Why was he here?” Bethany shook her head. “I don’t know for certain. I did hear some say that he was close to getting what he wanted. Whatever that might be.” Royden wondered himself and intended to find out. “The warriors won’t be coming back. I’m free and I’m home to stay.” Bethany’s shoulders sagged as if a heavy weight had been lifted off them. “Those who have remained here have struggled to keep the clan together until one of you returned.

No one ever doubted that one of you would come home and return strength and pride to the clan.” “It will be done. The Clan MacKinnon will rise again,” he said and with what he had learned while captive, he’d make his clan close to invincible. “I never got to thank you for what you did that day of the attack, Bethany. It took courage to step forward and lie to protect Raven, and I am forever grateful that you did. I am also grateful that you remained here and did what you could to keep the Clan MacKinnon together.” “The clan is my family and I would do anything to protect Raven,” Bethany admitted tearfully. “And I’d do anything to find her and help bring her home.” “You have my word. I will find Raven and bring her home,” Royden said, intent on keeping the promise he had made those many years ago.

“Will Arran return home soon?” Bethany asked. “I believe he will,” Royden said, sounding and feeling hopeful now that he was home. He’d never forget what his brother had done for him when he’d lost his hand. He owed Arran much and he prayed he’d see him soon. Otherwise he’d… “I’ll go find Arran if necessary.” “As he would you,” Bethany acknowledged. “Much work is needed here, the fields need to be made ready for summer planting and the cottages repaired along with the storehouses which need stocking. I don’t know if there is enough left of the clan to see it done.” “I’ll see it done.” Royden didn’t know how, but he’d let nothing stop him from restoring his clan’s power and wealth and providing a thriving home for them all.

“You should be aware that one of the warriors who was here for some time chose to stay,” Bethany said. “He fell in love with Emily, Old George’s granddaughter, and they wed.” “Emily is so young,” Royden said, thinking she was near the same age as his sister. “Not anymore. She’s close to ten and nine years now,” Bethany reminded. “And past the age most lassies wed.” Now that he was home, the years he’d been away seemed like only yesterday. But they weren’t and nothing was the same. His sister wasn’t a young lass on the verge of womanhood. She was grown and had been of marriage age for a few years now.

Had she found a man of her choosing and wed? “Penn seems nice enough and he’s good to Emily and she’s madly in love with him.” Bethany sighed and shook her head again. “I can’t help but wonder and worry that Penn was ordered to stay here.” “And keep this leader of his informed,” Royden said the obvious. “It’s a thought I can’t shake, but look at me going on like this when you’re probably hungry and could do with a washing.” “You’re right about both,” Royden said. “Once that’s done, I’ll walk through the village and talk with everyone so they know I’m home.” He gave one last look over the quiet village and spotted a lone rider not far off. “That would be Lady Learmonth. Once a week she visits here to tend the ailing and give what comfort she can to those in need,” Bethany said.

“The old chieftain wed? And when did Learmonth have a title bestowed on him?” Royden asked. “Aye, he has a wife and not long after the attack a title. You nee—” “Get food and drink ready for our guest. I have much to ask Lady Learmonth,” Royden said and turned away from Bethany, failing to see the worry in her eyes and the hesitancy in her steps as she did as she was told. The rider came to a stop not far from him and before he could offer her assistance, she dismounted on her own and with graceful skill. Her hood concealed a good portion of her face as she approached him. The woman stopped suddenly, hesitant to approach him, and he couldn’t blame her. He was far from presentable, his garments soiled from his arduous journey and worn from the years and elements. He also needed a good soaking to wash away not only the grime and odor, but who he had become these past five years. A man who had lost all sense of who he had once been.

A man he’d become far too familiar with over time. A man who killed far too easily and a man who had laid with women he cared nothing about. A man who had lost all honor. He reached back to his past, recalling manners he hadn’t needed in years. “Please forgive my unpresentable state, Lady Learmonth. I have only returned home after a long journey and I am not as presentable as I should be.” When she failed to respond, he wondered if she was too offended by his appearance to even speak to him. Or was it the shock in seeing that he had lost a hand that kept her silent? Or hadn’t he sounded sincere enough? He had had no call to be mannerly while captive and it felt foreign for him to do so now. Annoyed she refused to speak to him, he held his temper that was rising and tried to engage her again. “You have been most kind to my clan in my absence.

” Still she gave no response and she didn’t even move. She appeared frozen in place. What did she think he was going to do, attack her? Had his appearance changed that much? Did he look that menacing?

.

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