Read Highland Hawk: Highland Brides #7 Online

Authors: Lois Greiman

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Highland Hawk: Highland Brides #7

BOOK: Highland Hawk: Highland Brides #7
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Highland Hawk

Highland Brides #7

Lois Greiman

This e-book is licensed to you for your personal enjoyment only.

This e-book may not be sold, shared, or given away.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the writer’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

HIGHLAND HAWK

Previously published in print only (Avon, 2000).

Copyright © 2000 by Lois Greiman

Ebook ISBN: 9781625172563

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No part of this work may be used, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without prior permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

NYLA Publishing

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Avenue, Suite 2003, NY 10001, New York.

http://www.nyliterary.com

Dedication

To Tara, who is everything I expect my heroines to be—and so much more. When I dreamed of a daughter I never imagined anyone as perfect as you.


If one must stray from the nest, better to soar with the hawk than to waggle with the goose.”


Roderic the Rogue

Chapter 1

In the year of our Lord 1524

The lance pointed directly at Catriona's heart.

"Put back your hood at once," the soldier ordered. He was young, red-haired, and very straight in the saddle.

Catriona eased back the dark fabric with an unsteady hand. The sunlight, falling sharply from the west, struck her eyes at a hard angle, and she could not see the soldier's immediate reaction. But she heard his intake of breath, and the lance near her chest wavered for a moment before he steadied it.

"You are..." he began, then paused. "Gypsy." He said the word like a denouncement, his tone as stiff as the weapon he held with such youthful zeal.

"Aye, good sir. That I am."

"Where are you bound and how many in your party?"

Catriona tightened her hands on the reins and prayed from the depths of her soul. She could ill afford to be turned back now. Lachlan's very life depended on her success.

"You shall travel to the castle of the king," Blackheart had said. "And there you shall do as you are bid."

"We go to the castle for the king's celebration. And there are only the two of us you see here and one more asleep inside the cart."

"Man or woman?"

"A woman, good sir."

"Is she..." For a moment the soldier faltered and leaned closer, as if to determine whether his eyes betrayed him. "Is she like you?"

From the top of the willow stick cage secured to the side of the cart, two greenfinches quarreled then fluttered to the nearby treetops.

"Like me?" Catriona knew what he saw—a dusky-skinned, cat-eyed woman who showed the traits of a thousand foreign tribes in her features.

"Is she..." he began, but a noise from behind warned him of someone's approach. He straightened his back stiffly and hardened a determined scowl. "Tell her to come out where we can see her," he ordered.

Catriona mentally winced. With diplomacy and luck, she might be able to soften the soldier's mood. But Marta of the Bairds had long ago outlived her love of finesse.

"She is weary and needs her rest," Catriona said, hedging carefully. ''

The boy-man behind the lance scowled uncertainly, then twitched his gaze to the rear and hardened his expression once again. "You shall have her come forth immediately or suffer the consequences," he said, but just then his mount was jostled aside.

"Oh, for God's sake, put up your weapon, Galloway." The man who spoke was perhaps a dozen years older than the first and scowled at the other before dropping his gaze to hers. His brows rose as if in surprise. "I see now why the lad made himself a fool." He smiled, slowly, as if that expression alone could accomplish much. He was dark-haired, fit, and bonny, and would be the last person on earth to be surprised if such was said aloud. That much Catriona knew immediately. "So you are Gypsies," he said.

"We are Rom," Rory corrected from beside her on the narrow wagon seat. His tone was terse, and like the young man called Galloway, he too could manage disdain. It was not an emotion Catriona condoned—not when surrounded by a score of soldiers, well armed and well mounted.

"I and my cousin have been invited to entertain for the king's birthday festivities," she said, hurrying to draw attention from Rory's haughty demeanor.

"Have you indeed?" asked the dark man, and canted his head as if impressed.

"Lieutenant Brims," Galloway began. "They are Gypsies, and as such..." He paused then leaned closer to his superior, dropping his voice as he did so.

But in truth, there was little need to hear his words, for it had all been said before.

The elder man straightened with a grin, not pulling his gaze from Catriona's. "I think the king's guard can manage a few Gypsies in our midst."

"Are you certain, sir?" asked another as he urged his steed closer. He too was dark, but narrow faced and narrow lipped. "It looks as if this lass might take a bit of handling."

"Are you offering your assistance, Wickfield?" Brims asked, still smiling at Catriona.

"That I am," said the other, his eyes bright in the setting sun.

"Very generous of you. But I see no reason for you to stay," said the officer. "You may return to your post with the others."

"Sir—" Galloway argued, but Wickfield interrupted him with a companionable hand on his shoulder.

"Not to worry, lad," he said. "I am certain the good lieutenant knows what he's about."

Galloway hesitated for a moment, but finally turned to the men behind him and ordered the troop away.

Their retreating hoofbeats sounded muffled in the still evening air. Celandine tossed her flaxen mane at the midges, and from behind, Cat heard Bay flirting with the soldiers' mounts.

"So you are entertainers?" said the lieutenant, leaning on the high pommel of his saddle as he stared down at her. "What do you do?"

"We are tumblers of sorts," Catriona said. "You may remember us from some years ago."

" 'Twas surely before I came to be in the king's employ," Brims said, nudging his steed closer. "For I would not have forgotten the likes of you."

Catriona smiled. Long ago she had learned that when the advantage of both flight and fight were against her, a ready smile was her best defense. And since her cart horse was tired and her gelding not the type to outdistance Brim's mount, she made certain her smile was effective. "I am flattered indeed, kind sir," she said, glancing demurely at her hands. "But I am certain a man of your stature has more pressing things to hold his attention."

"More pressing?" he said and laughed. "That I doubt. But tell me, sweet lass, what do I call you?"

He was uncomfortably close now. Close enough for her to feel the heat from his horse against her leg.

"They call me Catriona."

"A fine, bonny name, but one I've not heard before. It makes me curious as to its origin. Mayhap we could take a stroll in yonder woods and discuss it." He leaned from his saddle to brush the back of his gloved fingers against her cheek.

She was careful not to draw away, though she could feel Rory's jealousy like a tangible force on her opposite side. "Truly I would love to," she said. "But I fear I must press on toward the castle."

"Why the rush, wee Cat?"

"The king requested that we come." It was only a partial lie. "It seems unwise to make him wait."

"Certainly true," Brims said. "But the king is young and well involved with the preparations for the festivities. I am certain he will not notice a few minutes delay. Come with me," he ordered and reached for her.

But in that instant the tiny door behind her swung open.

"And what of me?" rasped a voice as melodious as a squeaky wheel. "I have a bonny name. Would you not like to discuss
it?"

The lieutenant jerked back involuntarily as his gaze snapped to the face framed in the narrow door. Catriona knew what he would see—eyes as black as coal set in a toothless, dried-apple face.

"Speak," commanded the old woman. "Or has my beauty bewitched you?"

The lieutenant stared for a moment then laughed. "Indeed I am quite stunned. And what might your name be?"

"My name is Get the Devil Out of Our Way Before I Cast a—"

"Grandmother!" Cat interrupted rapidly. "This gentleman is but ensuring our safe passage to the castle. Best that you rest until we arrive there."

"Aye," said the lieutenant, but his jovial mood seemed to have darkened, and his gaze did not leave the doorway. "Shut yourself away, old one. Your granddaughter will only be gone for a short while unless—"

"She'll not be gone at all!" vowed Rory and lurched to his feet, his dirk already in his hand.

A movement flashed behind him. Something rose and fell, and suddenly Rory crumpled over the seat like a doll of rags.

From the far side of the cart the narrow-faced soldier smiled as his steed pranced in place.

"Back so soon, Wickfield?" Brims asked dryly.

"I told you she'd take a bit of handling, sir."

"And now I suppose you think to share."

The soldier shrugged, still grinning at her. "When there's a banquet..."

"Very well then," said Brims and reached for her.

Catriona stepped quickly sideways, but Rory's lax body impeded her retreat. "I regret my haste, gentle sirs," she said. "But truly, the king is expecting my imminent arrival. I dare not disappoint him."

"You dare not disappoint
me,"
warned Brims, and reaching wide, snatched her sleeve.

The time for finesse had passed.

Catriona slapped the reins against her mare's back and yelled a command. The cob leapt forward, jerking the cart into motion.

Catriona was yanked backward, but the captain's hold broke and suddenly she was loose and flying down the road toward the castle, her heart thundering like the mare's wild hoofbeats.

Behind her, the two men bellowed and cursed. Beside her, Rory bounced closer to the whirling wheel.

"Fly!" she yelled to the mare, and lurching sideways, grabbed hold of Rory's collar. Tugging on a bounce, she wrenched him toward her. He bumped against her legs, nearly upsetting her, but she gained her balance, grabbed the reins in both hands, and urged the steed on.

The mare was fleet and game, but fatigue and her burden were against her. Catriona saw Brims's steed inch forward, saw his hands come into view. She yelled again, but clearly the race was already lost. She frantically scrambled for a way out.

Something brushed her shoulder and she spun sideways, ready to do battle, but only a blackened, long-handled kettle met her gaze. Snatching it from her great grandmother's hands, she dropped the reins, steadied them with one foot, and prepared herself.

Another second... One more... Brims's head was almost in sight—nearly there. Cat waited another instant, and then she swung.

Hot, pumping panic welled through Catriona, but her swing rang true. The kettle banged against Brims's forehead like a thundering mace. His head snapped backward. His body followed, and he torpedoed off his steed and out of sight.

"Cat!" Grandmother shrieked.

Catriona pivoted to the right, her pot ready for the next attacker, but in that instant, she was snatched off her feet by the man called Wickfield. The pot banged against the side of the cart, numbing her fingers before it fell away.

She was yanked over the saddle and her breath was torn from her lungs by the force of their speed. The earth blurred beneath the steed's galloping hooves. With her legs dangling on the horse's near side Catriona struggled for a hold, one hand in her captor's shirt, one in the mane.

"There's a good lass," Wickfield gritted, his arm wrapped hard about her waist. " 'Tis best you know when you've been mastered."

BOOK: Highland Hawk: Highland Brides #7
13.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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