Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands
An Excerpt from Twice Bitten Twice Bitten
About the Author
By Lynsay Sands
About the Publisher
Niels stared at his brother-in-law blankly for one moment and then exploded, "Are ye daft? We're no' going anywhere near Drummond. We're traveling to McKay in the north. Drummond is south."
"Aye," Geordie agreed next to him, scowling at their sister's husband for good measure. "We only stopped here to drop off Rory and see our sister."
"I ken," Greer growled, his eyes shifting from the four Buchanan brothers sitting at his table to the upper landing, as if expecting his wife to appear at any moment.
Niels followed his glance, but there was nothing to see. The landing was empty. He looked back to his brother-in-law in time to see his mouth firming with determination as he turned his attention back to them.
"I ken it would add to yer journey, and I'd no' ask, but Saidh is really worried about her friend Edith Drummond. In the last letter she had from her four weeks ago, Edith was feeling poorly, and she's no' heard from her since. Saidh's had no' response to her last three messages and is concerned."
"Then send a damned messenger," Niels snapped impatiently. "Good Lord, man. Drummond is almost as far south as Buchanan and then it's another day's ride east. We'd ha'e to ride all the way back there, and then return here just to continue on with our original journey."
"It would add at least a week to our travels," Geordie put in, scowling.
"More," Alick commented with a grimace. "We have to ride slow with the cart." Shaking his head, he said, "Niels is right. Ye'd do better to send a messenger."
"Did you no' hear me just say that Edith has no' responded to the last three messages we sent?" Greer growled with frustration. "Me last messenger could no' even get inside Drummond bailey. He was made to leave the message at the gate. He returned with no news at all. Saidh is bound and determined to ride to Drummond herself and see that Edith is all right."
"So?" Niels asked with bewilderment. "Saidh has traveled before and will again. What--?"
"She is with child," Greer roared as if they had forgotten that little fact.
"Aye, with child, no' dead," Niels said with disgust. "Good Lord, she has five more months before the babe is due. Surely ye're no' trying to wrap her in swaddling and keep her from doing anything jest because she--Good Christ!" he ended with dismay as Saidh appeared at the top of the landing and started down the stairs. His dear--usually lithe--sister looked like she'd swallowed a calf . . . or two. Good God, her belly was so swollen and rounded out she could be carrying three calves in there, he thought with dismay. She looked so ungainly he feared she would overbalance and roll down the stairs like a ball.
Apparently, he was not the only one with that concern, for Greer MacDonnell was even now leaping to his feet to rush to his wife's side. They all watched in silent amazement as he hurried up the stairs, scooped her up into his arms and carried her down the rest of the way.
"I told ye to ha'e yer maid fetch me when ye were ready to come below," Greer was saying with exasperation as he approached the table.
"I am with child, no' cripple, husband," Saidh grumbled with irritation. "I am perfectly capable o' walking without help."
"Mayhap, but I can no' bear to watch it," Greer growled, setting her in the chair next to his with a care not presently notable in his voice. "Every time ye start down I fear ye'll just tip forward and roll down like a--" Greer's words died on an apologetic grimace as he noted Saidh's stiff expression. "I jest worry," he ended lamely and then offered a conciliatory smile and said, "I'll let Cook ken ye're below and ready to break yer fast."
"Thank ye, husband," Saidh murmured, smiling when he bent to press a kiss to her forehead before moving off. She watched him cross the great hall for the kitchens, her face soft with affection and appreciation, both of which were definitely absent when she turned back to her brothers. Her gaze slid over their gaping expressions and then she gave a little huff of disgust and snapped, "Well? Are ye no' pleased to see me?"
Niels raised his eyebrows at the grumpy question and let his eyes drift to settle on her overlarge stomach. "Aye. We are all just surprised that there is so much to see."
"Ye look ready to burst," Alick said with awe. "I thought ye were only four months along?"
"I am," she muttered unhappily, one hand rising to rub across her protruding belly. "I think I may be carrying two bairns."
"I'm thinking six," Geordie said, and promptly received a hard kick from their sister for his trouble.
Niels bit back a laugh and turned to Rory, eyebrows raised. "Should she be this big a'ready?"
Rory snapped his mouth closed and stood to move to Saidh's side. Placing a hand at her elbow, he tried to urge her to her feet. "We should retire above for a few moments."
"Above stairs?" Saidh asked with a scowl and then shook her head and jerked her arm free of his hold. "Nay. I jest got below. Besides, I'm hungry and--"
"And I need to examine ye," Rory countered firmly. "Ye can eat after."
"Or," she suggested just as firmly, "Ye could examine me after I've eaten."
"Or, I could examine ye right here in front o' everyone," he said in a tone of good cheer that didn't soften the threat.
Saidh's eyes narrowed, and her hand moved to the sgian-dubh at her waist. "Try it and I'll skewer ye where ye stand."
"Saidh," Rory complained with exasperation, and then heaving out a breath, tried reason. "Ye're much larger than ye should be at this stage in the game, lass. It can be dangerous. I need to listen to yer heartbeat and see that it's no' under strain. I also wish to--"
"I'm fine," she said grimly, and when he opened his mouth to argue further, added, "But I'll make a deal with ye."
"What's that?" Rory asked, and Niels couldn't help noticing his brother was suddenly wary. He would have been himself. One never knew what would come out of their sister's mouth.
"Promise to accompany me to check on Edith and I'll let ye examine me," Saidh said firmly.
Rory scowled. "Saidh, ye can no' seriously be thinking to ride a horse in yer shape. Ye--"
"Fine. Then I do no' need examining," Saidh waved away his diatribe and turned to face the table.
Niels lowered his head to hide his amusement as Rory cursed, but then his brother heaved out a breath. "Fine. If ye let me examine ye, I'll see what I can do fer yer friend Edith," he said shortly. "Now . . . will ye please let me examine ye and be sure all is well?"
Saidh relaxed and even smiled faintly, but then she grimaced and said, "Aye. But give me a minute to rest at least. 'Twas a tiring bit of business getting below."
That last part was admitted almost shamefully, which told them that it was true. Saidh disliked showing weakness.
"I shall carry ye up," Rory offered gently.
She blinked at the very suggestion and began to laugh, but it died quickly as Saidh looked Rory over. Eyes widening slightly, she took in their previously lithe brother and said, "Ye've put on weight and yer arms have muscle."
"Aye." Niels grinned at her comment. "He's been workin
"Why?" she asked with surprise.
Rory grimaced and answered, "Our brothers have been working hard at convincing me that while kenning how to heal others' injuries was good, it may be prudent to learn how to defend meself as well so that I could remain healthy enough to do so." He smiled crookedly and added, "After all the trouble both ye and Dougall and yer mates ran into recently, it did seem they may be right."
"Aye," Saidh said solemnly. "They are."
Rory nodded, and then raised an eyebrow. "Shall I carry ye up?"
Heaving a sigh, she shook her head and stood up. "I'll walk. Ye can hold me arm though to be sure I do no' overbalance and tumble backward down the stairs."
Rory merely nodded and took her arm to lead her away.
Niels watched them go, his gaze narrowing with concern on Saidh's protruding stomach.
"Surely she should no' be that large already?" Geordie murmured with a frown.
Niels shook his head. "I've never seen the like this early on."
"Aye, and ye ken what that means," Alick said gloomily. When the other two men merely looked at him in question, he rolled his eyes and pointed out, "We'll have to go to Drummond now. We can no' let Saidh try to ride there in her state. Hell, she was puffing and weary just from walking down the stairs and Greer carried her most o' the way."
Niels blew his breath out on a sigh, but nodded. "We'll make a detour that way on our return from McKay and--"
"Ye can no' wait that long."
That determined comment drew his gaze around and he saw that their brother-in-law was returning. Mouth thinning, Niels said, "We have a delivery to make, Greer. The McKays are expecting their woven cloth by the end of the week. We can no' just--"
"I'll have six o' me men make the delivery in yer stead," Greer said firmly. "But ye ha'e to head to Drummond straightaway else Saidh'll insist on going herself."
Niels pursed his lips as he considered the offer and then countered, "Twelve men."
"Twelve?" Greer scowled at the suggestion. "There were only going to be the three o' ye seeing it there yerselves."
"Aye, but 'tis expensive cloth, and one Buchanan is worth four o' yer average warrior," he pointed out. "O' course, if ye want to travel with them, then ye can get away with eight and yerself."
Somewhat mollified by the implication that he was as good a warrior as his brothers-in-law, Greer sighed and then nodded. "All right. Twelve warriors will escort the woven cloth to McKay."
Niels smiled slowly. He'd just traded a long, uncomfortable two-week journey to McKay and back, for a much quicker two-day jaunt to Drummond. Life was good when the heavens smiled on you like this.
"Bloody hell! Open the damned gate and let us see Lady Edith, ye whoremonger, or we'll set it alight and smash it down ourselves."
Alick's threat made Niels shake his head, because threats were all they were. Setting fire to the Drummond gates and smashing them down was the last thing they were going to do. Hell, with just the four of them there, he wasn't sure they even could. Though it would be fun trying, he acknowledged.
Still, they weren't here to start a war with the Drummonds. Their only task was to check on their sister's friend and report back to Saidh on how she fared. Unfortunately, nothing short of their actually seeing the lass was likely to keep Saidh from insisting on trying to ride out there to see her for herself. And he suspected even that wouldn't be enough. Once they'd agreed to come, she'd insisted on accompanying them. Only Rory's warning that the journey might harm her unborn babes had kept her at home. Well, that and Greer's threat to tie her to their bed and keep her there under guard until the babes were born if she even tried mounting a horse.
Niels shook his head again at the thought. Babes, as in plural. As in his sister was bearing more than one babe. Rory suspected it was twins. Alick and Geordie were sure it was going to be more and were betting on the size of the litter. Alick was guessing three, Geordie four. Niels thought they were both mad. Women did not have litters of three and four. Twins alone were a rarity. Three or four . . . well . . . he'd heard old wives' tales about some woman way back when, or from a distant land, having three bairns in one birth, but he was sure an old wives' tale was all it was. Still . . . Saidh was huge enough to be carrying three or four.
Raising his gaze to the men on the gate tower, he shouted out calmly, "We just wish to see yer lady. Our sister, her friend Lady Saidh MacDonnell, is concerned for yer lady's welfare. If ye do no' wish to open the gate, then jest have yer lady come to the gate and let us see her so that we can tell our sister she is well and healthy."
The men on the wall all glanced at each other, and then one said, "I thought it was Lady Edith ye were interested in, no' our lady?"
"Aye." Niels frowned. "Is Edith no' lady here? I understood her mother was dead and she was lady here now."
"She was," the man called back, "But Brodie, the youngest son, married and his wife, Lady Victoria is now lady here. And the laird ordered that the gate no' be opened to anyone until they return."
Niels's eyebrows rose at the news. He hadn't heard of the marriage, and was a bit surprised that the youngest son's bride would be allowed to step in and replace the daughter of the house as lady. Perhaps had the eldest brother and heir married, his wife as future Lady of Drummond would have stepped in, but the wife of the youngest son?
Still, that wasn't his issue to deal with here so he merely set that information aside to consider later, and said, "Well, 'tis Lady Edith we are interested in. Saidh has sent three messengers and received no response. She asked us to come and see her to be sure she is well." He paused a beat and then added, "She felt sure that, Scottish hospitality being what it is, ye'd no' turn away noblemen as ye have mere messengers."
The men above them began to argue back and forth. It seemed someone up there felt they should be allowed entrance. Others obviously didn't agree and he waited patiently as the argument continued. After a moment, however, he repeated, "We need not enter to please our sister. If ye would jest have Lady Edith come to the gate to assure us she is well we could be on our way."
"She can no'," the earlier speaker said and then admitted grimly, "She is too weak to make her way to the gate."
"She's still ill then?" Rory asked next to him, concern in his voice.
"Verra." The man sounded weary. "She's hanging on by a thread and lasted longer than her father and the two older brothers, but she's no' long fer this world. A shame too, she's provin' herself a fighter. Would have made a good clan leader."
Niels's eyes widened at the news that Ronald Drummond and his two elder sons were dead, but supposed it explained how the youngest son's wife could now act as lady of the castle.
Rory shifted restlessly in the saddle next to him, and Niels glanced over as he pointed out, "Saidh'll no' be happy if we leave with no more news than that the woman still ails."
Nodding, Niels raised his head to call out, "We'll no' be leaving here until the lass is either dead or back on her feet. Our sister would accept no less."
"We'll tell ye when she dies then," the voice called back.
Rory muttered under his breath.
Ignoring him, Niels said, "Or ye could let us in. Me brother here is the finest healer in Scotland. He may yet be able to save Lady Edith."
Silence reigned for a moment and then another hissed argument took place above.
Niels tried to wait patiently, but really, this wasn't done. He'd barely had the thought when Alick muttered angrily behind him, "This is a farce. A Scot does no' leave allies standing at the gate like beggars and refuse them entrance."
"No' if they want to keep them as allies," Geordie agreed in a growl.
"Geordie and Alick are right, Niels. This is beyond the pale," Rory said grimly. "I could be in there right now helping the lass, if they would but--"
Niels raised his hand
Niels paused midthreat as the gate began to rise. Eyebrows lifting, he murmured, "Hmm. Looks like they're opening the gate."
"I can no' imagine why," Rory muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Must be me natural charm," Niels said with a shrug, urging his horse forward before the men on the wall could change their minds and lower the gate again.
"Oh aye, for certain. The Buchanan charm wins out every time," Geordie agreed, following him onto the bridge.
"Brothers," Rory reprimanded, urging his mount between theirs, "if this is the kind of charm you display on a regular basis on your journeys, 'tis no wonder I'm always having to patch ye up on yer return."
"Nay, charm's nothing to do with that," Niels assured him. "Pity is the reason we return with wounds."
"Pity?" Rory asked with bewilderment.
"Aye, well we have to let our adversaries get at least a lick or two in, else they'd be demoralized at being bested so roundly," Niels said reasonably.
"And then there's you," Geordie added.
"Me?" Rory asked with dismay. "What have I to do with yer getting wounded in battle?"
"Well, ye need practice in healing, do ye no'? So along with helping our opposition feel less incompetent with sword, we give ye something to do when we return that makes ye feel important. No' that ye ever thank us fer it," Geordie added in a grumble.
"Thank ye?" Rory asked with disbelief. "Are ye mad? Ye--surely ye do no'--ye can no' be serious?"
"Nay," Niels said with amusement. "But we had ye believing it there fer a minute, did we no'?"
Rory snapped his mouth closed and scowled from one to the other.
"See all the fun ye miss when ye insist on staying at home with yer dusty old books and medicinals rather than travel with us?" Alick said cheerfully, urging his own mount up beside Geordie's as they started across the bailey.
Rory cast him a disgusted expression. "Ye mean eating the dust kicked up by the horse in front o' mine, sleeping on the cold, hard ground and being made fun of at every turn?" he asked dryly. "Oh, aye, I am sorry to ha'e missed that all these years."