Read Highland Love Song (DeWinter's Song 2) Online
Authors: Constance O'Banyon
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Regency, #19th Century, #Scottish Highlands, #Adult, #Adventure, #Action, #DeWinter Family, #HIGHLAND LOVE SONG, #Daughter, #English Duke, #Highland Castle, #Warrick Glencarin, #Family Feud, #Betrothed, #Bitter Anger, #Scot Warriors, #Honor, #Loving Touch
As time passed, Arrian realized her situation was desperate. She closed her eyes, knowing that sleep was about to claim her, perhaps a permanent sleep. She was freezing, her life was inching away, and she didn't even care. She only wanted to give herself over to the lethargic feeling that was enveloping her so she would feel no more pain . . .
Mactavish grabbed Warrick's reins and yelled to be heard above the wind. "It's no use. We'll no find her in this. She must be frozen by now, unless she found someone to take her into their home."
Warrick wrenched his reins from Mactavish's hands. "I'll not stop. She's lost and alone and it's my fault. I'll find her."
On they pushed, with Tam riding just behind them. By late afternoon the wind had died down and the snow had stopped. Warrick was beginning to feel the futility of their mission. The girl must be dead by now. How could anyone who was unaccustomed to the Highlands survive in such a storm?
It was Tam who spotted Titus first. The tired horse limped toward them on his homeward trek. Warrick urged his mount forward and caught the reins. He bit back his anger at seeing the magnificent animal in such a state.
"Tam, take Titus back to the stable. MacTavish and I will continue to search for the girl. Titus's prints should lead us to her, if they're still visible."
Arrian awakened as she felt hands pulling at her, trying to make her stand against her will. She was floating in a shadowy world where she no longer felt the cold. "Leave me alone," she murmured.
Against her weak protest, she was lifted into strong arms and wrapped in a fur robe. Was she dreaming, or was she being carried on horseback?
She heard mumbling voices, but nothing they said mattered to her. She just wanted to sleep.
"Mactavish, ride back and inform Lady Mary that we found her niece. It will be better if I take her to the hunting lodge. In her condition, I don't think it's wise to make the long ride home. Assure her aunt that I'll bring her back tomorrow when she is well enough to travel."
Arrian snuggled against the hard body, reveling in the warmth. Then for a moment she opened her eyes and looked up at Lord Warrick in sudden fright. He tightened his arms around her and whispered in her ear, "Don't be frightened, my lady, you're safe now."
Warrick guided his horse down the familiar path, knowing he had to get to his lodge as soon as possible. The horse stumbled on a slippery incline and almost lost its footing, so Warrick had to slow his pace.
He held the girl close to him, feeling agony because he was responsible for her flight. He had pushed her too hard and too soon, and it must have terrified her.
The moon drifted out from behind a cloud and washed the countryside with its light. He glanced down at the sleeping girl. She was so lovely and helpless. A strange yearning came over Warrick—one he neither understood nor welcomed.
Out of the darkness he spotted the hunting lodge and nudged his horse to a faster pace. The girl had been exposed to the elements for hours. He had to get her inside.
She was so limp and pale, even now it might be too late to save her.
Warrick placed Arrian on the bed and piled woolen coverlets on her. After he had a roaring fire going he boiled some water and made tea, which he laced with sugar. He went to the girl and lifted her head.
"Here, drink this. It'll help warm you."
Arrian pushed the cup away, but he was insistent. Thinking to satisfy him so that he would leave her alone and let her sleep, she took a sip. Finding it to her liking, she drank more.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she saw Lord Warrick's face. "No," she groaned, "not you. I have to get away from you. Leave me alone."
"Not quite yet, my lady. I have to make certain you don't have frost bite. Your body is so cold, we have to warm you up slowly."
He pulled off the covers and removed her wet cloak.
"What are you doing?" she asked. "No, don't."
"You may not like what I must do, but it's for your own good. You were near frozen. I must remove your wet clothing."
She had no more strength to fight him as he slipped her gown over her head and stripped her down to her underclothing.
When she protested weakly, he hushed her with a command, "Be still."
Arrian decided it took too much strength to fight him, so she gave in to his ministering hands.
Warrick wrapped her arms and legs in hot towels with practiced detachment. He paused when he saw the black and blue marks on her shoulders and back. She must have been hurt in the carriage accident. Why hadn't she informed Dr. Edmondson of her injuries?
At last he felt she'd had enough moist heat and wrapped her in a fleece blanket. He carried her over to the fire and sat down with her in his lap.
Arrian, dreaming that she was warm and protected, nestled into the comforting arms that held her. "Ian," she whispered. "Ian."
Warrick trembled with loathing at the sound of the hated name on her lips. He was more sure than ever that this young girl was the one person in all the world he could use to wound his enemies.
Long after Arrian had fallen asleep, he held her in his arms, staring into the fire. If she had come to harm, her death would have been on his soul for all eternity. She mystified him. Why hadn't she complained about her injuries from the carriage accident? Didn't most women like to be fussed over and treated like helpless adornments?
With a sigh, Arrian turned her face to rest against his chest, and he looked down at her. He caught his breath at the sight of her loveliness. She was like a delicate flower. There was an innocence about her and an untouched beauty.
His gaze went back to the fire. He did not want to examine the guilt he was beginning to feel.
But he could not keep his eyes from straying to her face. Silken lashes lay against her creamy skin. He remembered well how those blue eyes could flame with indignation and anger—would he ever see them sparkle with happiness? He had never heard the sound of her laughter—would it be as musical as her speaking voice?
With angry resolve, he stood and carried her to the bed, where he laid her down and pulled the covers over her. Only when he was certain that she was sleeping peacefully did he go outside and unsaddle his horse. He led the animal to shelter and gave it water and oats.
When Warrick returned to the lodge, the girl was still sleeping. After standing over her a moment, he turned away. He could not allow pity to weaken his resolve. He still had a vendetta to settle with the Maclvors, and she was the perfect weapon to use against them.
Arrian snuggled into the warmth of the blankets, not knowing that her fate still lay with the brooding chief of Clan Drummond. She was dreaming that she was back at Ravenworth, safe in her own bed.
Arrian awoke feeling warm and rested. She burrowed her face into the pillow and relished the softness. Her mind was halfway between a dream world and reality, and she preferred the dream world.
Suddenly she became aware of the smell of food and realized she was hungry. Stretching her hands over her head, she sat up and looked around her in total confusion. Where was she?
It appeared that she was in a cabin built of rustic logs. Several stag and boar heads stared down at her from the walls.
Arrian heard someone outside the door stomping snow from his boots. When the door opened, she stared dumbfoundedly at Lord Warrick. She pulled the covers up and pushed her tumbled hair from her face.
"Why couldn't you let me die?"
Warrick dropped an armload of wood in the bin, ignoring her question. "I trust you're hungry."
She folded her arms across her chest. "No, I'm not. And you can't make me eat."
"Pity. I'm starved. Mactavish was here this morning and delivered a bounty of food from Haddy."
"To you she would be Mrs. Haddington. You see, she was once my nurse, so I call her Haddy."
"I can't fathom that you were ever a baby."
He smiled. "I'll wager you were your parents' little darling. I can see them parading you about for all to admire."
"I'll wager you caused your father and mother no end of trouble," she said.
Warrick smiled. "No doubt."
She watched him drop two fish into a hot pan, and soon a delicious aroma wafted through the room. Arrian tried to ignore the smell, but she was so hungry.
"Nothing like fresh salmon," he said. "I can taste it already."
Arrian watched out of the corner of her eye while he unloaded a basket of food. "Let's see . . . there's oatcakes, raspberry sauce, honey, cheese, and butter."
"I'm not interested."
He arched his brow at her. "No?"
"No," she stated emphatically.
"For someone who almost froze to death last night, you made a quick recovery. I'm glad to see your spirit is intact, even if your temperament is not."
She watched him remove his coat and toss it across a chair. On his face was the shadow of a beard. He had apparently not shaved. He seemed to fill the whole room with his presence, and she found herself wondering why he wasn't already married. He certainly was handsome.
"Where is this place?" she asked when the silence became heavy.
"My hunting lodge."
"Oh. My father has a hunting lodge. It has nine rooms."
His lips twitched, but he did not smile. "I can't think why anyone would need nine rooms in a hunting lodge."
"That's really quite small. Our country home at Ravenworth has over a hundred rooms," she said.
He speared one of the fish, turning it in the pan. "Are you trying to overwhelm me with your father's wealth?"
Arrian shook her head. "Not at all. I'm trying to make you understand that my father is a very important man. When the king goes hunting, he often comes to my father's lodge. He eats at our table and allows my father to call him William."
Warrick removed the fish from the fire and placed them on a plate. "I am impressed." He didn't sound as if he was.
"You don't understand. I don't want to impress you, my lord. I want you to know that you can't hold me against my will. My father won't allow it, and neither will the king. You can surely see this is futile."
"Do you prefer raspberry on your oatcakes, or honey?"
"I said, I'm not hungry," she told him in exasperation.
He paused. "Raspberry, I think."
She glared at him.
Warrick took his plate and sat in a chair near Arrian's bed. He stabbed a flaky chunk of fish and put it in his mouth, smiling at her. "Mmm . . . delicious."
She turned her face from him. "I suppose you disrobed me."
"I don't think a proper gentleman would have been so bold, my lord."
"Perhaps a proper gentleman would have let you freeze. I'm beginning to wish I had. You can be most disagreeable, can't you?"
She wouldn't let him see that he'd hurt her feelings. "Not usually. Not until I met you. I have always been told that I had a good disposition. I believe that's no longer true."
"I can only judge by what I've observed."
"Perhaps I shall have just a bit of salmon, and honey, not raspberry, on an oatcake."
Without showing his triumph, he nodded. After spreading honey on an oatcake and placing fish on a plate, he handed it to her.
"Eat heartily, you'll need to regain your strength."
She looked at him again. "Do I smell tea?"
He laughed as he poured her a cup. "Indeed you do, my lady."
Arrian devoured the fish and swallowed the last crumb of oatcake. Sipping on the hot tea, she felt quite fit.
"What are you going to do with me?" she asked at last, hoping he would agree to let her go. "You can see, I'm nothing but trouble to you."
"You would be trouble to any man, my lady. It's a wonder you ever got anyone to agree to marry you."
"Apparently you had no hesitation in asking me to marry you," she said. "Of course, if you would like to reconsider . . ."
He stood at the window with his back to her. "My plans for you have not changed."
She came to her knees, clutching the blanket to her. "I don't want to be with you. Don't you understand? I love Ian. I want to be his wife. I will never help you hurt him. He loves me a great deal and must be out of his mind with worry by now."
Warrick turned to her. "I'm counting on that."
She wrapped the coverlet about her and moved across the cold stone floor to him. "Please let me go."
He scooped her up in his arms and carried her back to the bed, where he tucked the covers around her. "I'll not let you go, my lady. You may as well know that my mind is set on this marriage, and it will not change."
She caught his hand. "But it would not be a real marriage. Surely there must be another woman you would have for your wife."
"Will she not object to me?"
"She is married to Jamie Maclvors."
Arrian was puzzled. She had paid little attention to her cousin Jamie, because he had been overshadowed by Ian. She remembered him as being surly and complaining.
"I can't think why any woman would prefer cousin Jamie to you. Jamie is not as handsome as . . ." Her voice trailed off. "How could Jamie have won a woman from you?"
"Are you sure you want to know, my lady? You may not like what you hear."
"I want to know."
"I wonder if you will recognize the truth when you hear it."
"I'll know if you speak the truth."
His expression seemed reflective. "Lady Helena was on her way to Glencarin to marry me when she was abducted."
"How horrible. Was it highwaymen?"
"Those who were witness to the kidnapping said Jamie Maclvors was one of the men."
Arrian shook her head. "I cannot think why he would do such a thing."
"But there is more, my lady. Jamie not only abducted her, he insisted that she marry him, which she did. I wonder if she resisted as vehemently as you have?"
"Is that why you—"
"She now carries within her body his child. Or perhaps she has delivered the child by now."
Arrian realized in that moment why Lord Warrick had such hatred for her family. "But surely you will not punish Ian for his brother's sins."
He swung around to face her. "Did I forget to mention that your Ian was among the kidnapers that day?"
"No. Ian could not commit such an atrocity."
Warrick moved to the bed and stood over her. "I thought you might not believe me."
Arrian shrank away from him. She refused to consider his lies. He would say anything to make her think ill of the man she loved. "Ian would not abduct an innocent woman on the way to her wedding."
"Wouldn't he? I told you, my lady, that you might not believe me."
She looked into his eyes, which were glowing with discontentment. How had she become caught in this web of hatred?
"Will you ever let me go, my lord?"
"Perhaps when you carry the seed of my child within your body."
She gasped and scooted to the far side of the bed. "Never!"
"I told you before, the choice is still yours."
"It's done then. I'll agree to your plan." Her heart was beating wildly. "I don't believe you will ever allow me to leave."
He took her hand and stared at the ring on her finger. "I have no reason to keep you. After a time, when I have tired of the game, I will send you back to Ian."
"Perhaps he will not want me then. Perhaps you place too much importance on how he feels about me."
"You said yourself he loves you." He touched her hair. "How could he not?"
She shivered at his soft touch, and he let his hand drop away.
"I'll leave so you can dress. I believe you are strong enough to travel today." His eyes hardened. "But first I would ask a promise of you."
"What is it?"
"That you will never try anything as foolish as this again."