Ashlyn (The Highland Clan Book 5)

BOOK: Ashlyn (The Highland Clan Book 5)
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THE GRANTS AND RAMSAYS IN 1280S

 

 

 

GRANTS

 

 

LAIRD ALEXANDER GRANT, and wife, MADDIE

John (Jake) and wife, Aline

James (Jamie)

Kyla

Connor

Elizabeth

Maeve

 

BRENNA GRANT and husband, QUADE RAMSAY

Torrian (Quade’s son from first marriage) and wife, Heather-Nellie and son

Lily and husband, Kyle-twin daughters

Bethia

Gregor

Jennet

 

ROBBIE GRANT and wife, CARALYN

Ashlyn (Caralyn’s daughter from a previous relationship)

Gracie (Caralyn’s daughter from a previous relationship)

Rodric (Roddy)

Padraig

 

BRODIE GRANT and wife, CELESTINA

Loki (adopted) and wife, Arabella-sons, Kenzie and Lucas

Braden

Catriona

Alison

 

JENNIE GRANT and husband, AEDAN CAMERON

Riley

Tara

Brin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAMSAYS

 

 

QUADE RAMSAY and wife, BRENNA GRANT (see above)

 

LOGAN RAMSAY and wife, GWYNETH

Molly (adopted)

Maggie (adopted)

Sorcha

Gavin

Brigid

 

MICHEIL RAMSAY and wife, DIANA

David

Daniel

 

AVELINA RAMSAY and DREW MENZIE

Elyse

Tad

Tomag

Maitland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

Ashlyn of the Grants sat in the solar twisting her skirts into fine knots, the fabric now drenched with sweat from her hands. Why had Uncle Alex, her chieftain, called her to his solar, a place normally reserved for the men of the clan? Of course, her mother Caralyn was also in the meeting, along with her stepsire Robbie, her cousins, Jamie and Jake, and Jake’s best friend Magnus.

It had been a difficult time for all of them. Ranulf MacNiven, a man ordered to hang by the king, had been discovered alive not far from Grant land. He and another man, Hew Gordon, had joined forces with the intent of taking over the Highlands, beginning with the Grants. Then Gordon had made the crucial mistake of kidnapping Jake Grant’s love, Aline, which had brought the might of the Grant warriors down upon Castle Dubh.

Aline had been rescued, Gordon was dead, but the elusive MacNiven was nowhere to be found. Ashlyn had gone with her uncle to the decrepit keep during the attack to ferret out information. They’d found more than expected, including hidden bairns, but two of the women MacNiven and Gordon had kidnapped were missing.

After all the abuses she and her mother had suffered before joining Clan Grant, Ashlyn was determined to help any woman used by a man. It had become her underlying motivation for all she did, giving her life meaning. Aye, she was a lass and not a normal Grant warrior, but she wished to show the world what she was capable of.

Alex started the discussion. “I’ve called this meeting because we need to decide how to proceed. Hew Gordon is dead, but we have no proof that Ranulf MacNiven is dead. He was not among the dead bodies as far as we could determine. I’ve also had several scouting groups in the Highlands, and we’ve turned up naught. I do not think he’s dead, but we know not where he is.”

“Mayhap he had another place to hide,” Jamie suggested. “He’d only been with Gordon for a short time. There are a couple of moons between his supposed hanging and when he showed up in the Highlands. Where has he been? What did Uncle Logan think?”

Uncle Logan was not a true uncle, but the Ramsay and Grant clans were so tightly knit that all of the Grant children thought of him as one.

“Uncle Logan is returning to King Alexander to tell him that we have indeed seen MacNiven, and ‘tis possible he is still alive.” Alex steepled his fingers in front of his face, leaning back in his chair.

“Mayhap the king will have a suggestion on how he wishes to handle this,” Jamie said.

Robbie said, “One other thing we can do is send a group of guards back every fortnight to see if anyone has returned to Castle Dubh. I would consider the possibility that he’s hiding in a cave and plans to return to Castle Dubh once everything calms down.”

Ashlyn spoke up, to everyone’s surprise. “I think we should send out a search party. Search the entire area for unusual activity again, but wait until he thinks we’ve given up. I’d be happy to lead the search, my laird.”

“Ashlyn!” Her mother jerked back in shock. “Why?”

Ashlyn reached over to squeeze her mother’s hand. She understood the question, as her mother had not yet accepted her desire to be different, to be more daring than most.

Robbie and Magnus both responded in the same way. “Like hell!” The two of them looked at each other before turning their glares on Ashlyn. Her stepsire asked, “What the hell are you thinking?”

“I was in the kitchens, or have you forgotten? All that transpired there was not normal. Look at poor Aline. She was held against her will and beaten. Effie was held in the cellar with four bairns, and they were half starving when we found them. Cook said two other lasses who’d lived there had gone missing. Lorna was one, and Aline mentioned a lass named Cedrica. Neither of them have been discovered anywhere in the area. I do not like the feeling that was there. Something is going on, and I want to catch the bastard.”

She and her cousin Jake, who had also been there that day, had reached the same conclusion. Something very strange had been going on at Castle Dubh. She reminded the crowd of some important facts they’d uncovered. “He did steal much of Hew’s wealth. Aline said the two did not get along, but that the chief needed Gordon’s money. Where was he getting it and why did MacNiven need it?”

Ashlyn looked at Uncle Alex, but the man who oft seemed to know everything did not have any answers. He merely shrugged, then said, “Logan also reminded me of one other important point. Do not forget what he said about Glenn of Buchan wanting revenge on us and heading to the Highlands, though he’d have a difficult time of it now that winter is almost upon us.”

Jake stroked his jaw. “Aye, after they’d beaten me and said they were going to kill me, MacNiven had some of his men look at me to see if they recognized me. A couple of them said they’d just come to the Highlands, so could be they came from Buchan. One of them recognized our plaid. He said there were more men headed to Castle Dubh. What happened to them?”

Uncle Alex said, “Aye, I do not think we’re done with MacNiven.”

Robbie started to pace. “I must think about what you’ve said, Ashlyn. I know you’re headstrong, but you’re a lass. You cannot lead a group of warriors.”

She bolted out of her seat and her hands went to her hips. “But I’ve practiced my bow and arrow just as Aunt Gwyneth has taught me. I had another session with Uncle Logan when he was here. Gavin and Gregor and I spent one whole afternoon shooting, and they both gave me pointers. I can take care of myself.” Slud, how she hated the way men thought they were better than any woman out there, just because they were taller and stronger. Strength was not everything. Intelligence, cunning, and skill were oft more important. And Ashlyn felt an unquenchable need to prove it to everyone.

Her mother had advised her that it had always been the way of men, but she refused to accept it. The life they’d led before coming to the Highlands had taught Ashlyn that many men were dangerous fools. Aye, her stepsire and her uncles were good men—there were plenty of good men in Clan Grant—but her fractured memories of the time before still gave her nightmares. As often as not, she’d wake up screaming and thrashing, swinging at an unknown enemy.

Her mother was convinced her dreams were caused by a man they’d both known—Malcolm, the lout who had made her mama’s life a living hell—but her mother was wrong. There were two different nightmares. One was about a predator she recalled all too well; the other was about a pair of attackers she did not recognize.

Whatever drove her did not matter. She’d practiced her bow and arrow every day for years. She deserved to go as much as any man did. And her heart longed to stop this abuser of women.

Robbie stared at his brother, his brow quirked as if he was asking for assistance in the matter. “Brother? Do you wish to send Ashlyn out leading a group of warriors?”

Ashlyn contained her impulsivity due to her respect for Robbie. He was the first man she had ever loved and trusted after the loss of her sire, and she knew he had her best interests at heart. Much as she wished to repay Robbie Grant for all he’d done for her family, she knew it was impossible. Though it went against her nature, she did her best never to argue with him. This would have to be an exception.

Alex sighed, pursing his lips in thought. After a pause, he said, “Ashlyn, ‘twould be premature and rash to send you out now, especially since we’ve already scoured much of the area. I would propose we wait until Uncle Logan sends a messenger back with information from the king. If the king wants him caught, he may order us to go in search for him. If so, I’ll send a group out.”

Ashlyn managed to sit down and compose herself. “May I lead the group, if it happens?” She stared at her hands, awaiting her laird’s response, not wanting to see her parents’ looks of disapproval. Surely her uncle, who had worked with Aunt Gwyneth often over the years, knew how valuable a female warrior could be. Uncle Logan’s wife was the most skilled archer in the Highlands, and many said in all of England.

“Nay.”

Ashlyn jumped out of her seat. “Would you tell Aunt Gwyneth she could not lead a group? ‘Tis not fair. You say that just because I’m a lass, Uncle Alex.”

“Please sit down,” Uncle Alex replied. “You’re not going anywhere at present. Nay, I would not turn Aunt Gwyneth down because she’s been trained to be a spy. You have not.”

She fought the urge to cry, so she bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood. Under no circumstances would she be caught crying in the laird’s solar, especially not while discussing a mission. Her reputation was too important.

A few moments later, Uncle Alex added, “But I would allow you to travel with my warriors. I would send Magnus as your protector.”

A smile crossed Ashlyn’s face, but she felt it drop the next instant. Though she was grateful to be going, this was not a condition she’d expected, nor one she planned to accept.

“What? Why would I need a protector? I can take care of myself.” Hell, the last thing she needed was a protector who might need to touch her, the one thing she could not tolerate from anyone but close family.

“Ashlyn, I have daughters. I know you think you can defend yourself, and mayhap you can at a distance, but when it comes to weight and muscle, you would not be able to protect yourself. If a man decided to lay you flat on the ground, climb on top of you, and rape you, you would not be able to fight him off on your own. Magnus would. I’m sorry if my talk shocks you, but you must be aware of what you may run into while traveling away from Grant land. Those would be my conditions. But we wait until we hear from Uncle Logan.”

Robbie said, “Do not take it as an insult, Ashlyn. You’d be the first female to travel with the Grant warriors, just as Aunt Gwyneth travels with the Ramsay warriors.”

Robbie had a point. No other female had ever traveled with the Grant warriors. She would be the first. Regardless of the conditions, she had been given her uncle’s approval to help search out the bastard MacNiven. She’d find him for sure and put an arrow through his thick skin. If she had to have a protector, so be it. Magnus was better than many, though she’d never admit it to him.

This was what she’d always wanted.

She was now a Grant warrior. She smiled and nodded. “My thanks, Uncle Alex.”

Then she glowered at Magnus, who had the audacity to grin back at her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK: Ashlyn (The Highland Clan Book 5)
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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