Highlander’s Cursed Heiress (Preview)
Gale looked up at the sun. The last time she checked to see how much light she had left in the day, it seemed as if she would have more time to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Now, as the sun melted behind the mountain tops, there were still hours before full nightfall, but she’d failed to account for the mountains. Dusk flooded the valley, threatening to blind her with darkness within an hour.
A stray wind whipped down and pulled at Gale’s cloak. She pulled it close to her body, shivering against the sudden temperature drop. Her heart pounded as she looked around. Hours had passed since the last time she saw a house or a human at all. The road wound across the valley. In the distance, she could see the dark sponging of a forest, well out of her way. Yet for miles ahead, the land was open and vulnerable, save the occasional outcropping of rocks piercing through wildflowers and moss.
What have I done? Gale thought. She’d not accounted for the mountains stealing so much day, and now the thought of making camp in the open frightened her.
The other nights were hard, but she’d lucked out, and the days stretched on longer. Gale stared at the dark tree line, now only a shadow. The roughhewn road reflected some light, a pallid snake curling through the dusk. Her mind filled with horrible thoughts—bandits, travelers drunk and cold and aggressive—and of course, wild animals hunting for a meal.
There was no way she could sleep out in the open. Her fire would beckon one and all nearby, and at this point in her journey, strangers terrified her. She remembered the cruelty she’d met from the first villagers she solicited for help. With the respects of her title stripped from her, she was a common girl, now filthy and hungry from traveling in the same clothes for weeks.
I should have never sold the horse Gale chastised herself as she walked faster. It had been necessary, though. The horse would have given her company and helped her, but she would have starved or frozen. Each night was colder than the previous as she made it further north. She had a blanket and a dwindling supply of food. The cheat robbed me.
Gale tried to push the memory from her mind. She didn’t know anything’s price. She knew her horse was worth more than she received, but it was her first time haggling. Her fear of the darkness and what danger might come with it fueled a million terrible thoughts in her mind. Anger coursed through her as she remembered the farmer’s stoic face while she begged him for an honest trade—a feat in itself that injured her pride. If not for how hungry she was at that point, she would have waited, but she had never gone two days without food before. The man knew she was desperate and naïve.
A small rock tripped up her foot. “God’s teeth!” Her heart dropped into her stomach as she stumbled forward. The palms of her hands tore against the packed earth and small pebbles.
Tears gripped at her. She sniffed them back, remembering how much harder they made it for her to think and make good time. Gale tipped her matted blonde head up to the heavens and let out a sigh. The clouds were too thick. Even when the stars peeked out, it was unlikely for her to receive much light. Her hands trembled as she wiped her nose on the edge of her cloak.
Calm down. She forced herself to take a deep breath and step forward. Just get to the trees. The thought of her bed, so warm and comfortable with fire blazing in the hearth, came to mind. Gale squeezed her eyes shut hard enough for specks of light to spark against her dark eyelids. She couldn’t think about home. She knew what memories would come next. There was no use in thinking about how nice it would be to eat a full meal and sleep in a real bed. It was not going to happen. She could never go back home.
Gale took one more breath, and as she exhaled, she focused her full attention on the forest. I can make a bed of pine and leaves. What about animals? It felt as if some small creature crept from the nape of her neck to her spine. She shook the thought of bugs and creeping things from her mind. Out here is worse.
The hours passed. One foot at a time, one small step at a time, she drew closer. Darkness enveloped her until even her pale hands were hardly visible in front of her. When the forest was near enough to tower above her, she started to run. She ran as if all her fears were right behind her. It was if, at any moment, the hand of a strange man or a bloodthirsty thief would snatch the collar of her cloak and rip her to the ground.
Her feet slipped on the moisture slicked grass. She let out a soft cry, catching herself and carrying on. Just a little further. Her hands reached out. The rough bark gripped at her fingertips. She let the momentum of her sprint wrap her around the tree as she caught her breath. The forest was instantly darker than the road. She groaned as she looked into the blackness before her, hoping for her eyes to adjust.
Gale looked back and forth between the open stretch of land behind her and the darkness of the forest. The black branches spread out like claws. The rustling of small animals piqued her ears and stirred dark imaginings in her mind. She heaved her rucksack onto her shoulder, cringing as the rope cut into her tender flesh.
The young woman mustered up the courage to take a few steps into the trees. She didn’t want to lay in the open, easy for a passerby to accost, her few items too valuable to lose. The darkness was worst, though. She stopped when she could no longer see the road, hoping it was good enough to keep her safe.
Gale pulled the foliage into a pile and wrapped herself tightly in the wool blanket. The cold air bit at her nose, and her body ached from walking and carrying all that she owned. She pulled the blanket over her head, creating a cocoon for her breath to warm. The nights were always the hardest. She was tired and frightened and overwhelmed. Without the landscape and focus of her journey to keep her mind occupied, the past haunted her.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, Gale tried to tell herself as she felt the lump swell in her throat. She promised herself she would not cry anymore. It was of no use, no matter how much she felt she had mourned enough, the nights always broke her. The image of her father’s face—distorted, swollen, and blue came to her as clear as if she had found him the night before. She pulled her blanket closer and wiggled deeper into the dried leaves and bits of brush.
Visions of her home swirled up. She could not remember her father’s laugh or the sound of his voice. Guilt coursed through her as she struggled to recall the only person who’d made her feel loved. She remembered how she saw her mother the night of his death. Even though there was nothing she could have done, she should have known something was terribly wrong.
Heavy sobs wracked her body. She let them come, crashing over her like waves. Gale choked on her cries, wailing soft into the silent privacy of the night. When her throat dried and she choked, coughing until she was forced to breathe and calm down, a nervous sleep overcame her.
Since leaving home, she hadn’t slept soundly. It was easy to recount all the ways she took her plush life for granted. There was constant fear on the road, and it came into her dreams.
A branch snapped in the distance. Gale’s eyes flew open, and her body stiffened. She clung tight to the wool cloth, afraid to move, straining her ears for another sound. Another broken branch—barely audible—cracked.
With trembling fingers, Gale pulled the blanket down just enough to peek at the woods around her. She dared not to move more than necessary. Within a few yards, big yellow eyes stared at her. They floated in the darkness like hungry spirits and froze the blood in her veins with their ravenous gaze. The rustle of foliage whispered behind her. She dared not look, but she knew she was surrounded. She could feel the tension hanging in the air. The smell of dank fur carried on the breeze sending the hair on her arms and neck prickling up at attention.
Up above, the wide branches of a mighty oak stretched out. It was her only hope. Gale curled her fingers around the edge of the blanket, knowing the second she moved, they would attack. She closed her eyes for a moment to calm her heart and imagine what she needed to do.
Gale tore the blanket from her body and jumped as fast as she could to the nearest branch. Her fingers threatened to slip as she hugged the wide bough curving outwards above her makeshift bed. The trees exploded with movement. She struggled to pull herself up. There was no thinking or lapse in time as she jumped to the next branch, hoping it was strong enough to hold her. Jaws snapped in the darkness below. She squealed as claws scraped the bark just beneath her, unable to see anything except their eyes in the dark woods.
The young woman thought she was dead. She muttered prayers under her breath. “Ach! Please, God, please no.”
The bark roughed up her small palms and cut at her knees as she scrambled up the tree. Gale did not look down. She jumped in her skin, almost losing balance as one of them leaped, jowls snapping close enough for her to feel its hot breath. Gale’s hand reached up for the next branch. It snapped in her hand. She screamed out and clung to the trunk. Holding herself there, too scared to move.
Never in her life had she climbed a tree—not like this. In her youth, the farthest she dared to clamber up was the occasional low branch swooping towards the mossy floors—even that was a private, naughty endeavor for a lady. To think, that filled her with adrenaline and a sense of adventurous mischief—and now, she was high enough to kill herself, and surrounded by wolves.
Her heartbeat calmed enough for her to look down. She could make out the faint movement below her. The darkness slithered back and forth, circling the trunk. Occasionally those eyes would flash up at her, bright and vexed at missing their meal. The pack started to howl.
“Go away!” More tears choked her in her panic. Her voice was weak and unconvincing. She tried to calm it’s nervous shake, “Get out o’ here!” she screamed.
It was no use. Gale stood there, clinging to the trunk until their howls calmed down, and her arms ached enough to shake. She looked around her. There was a branch adjacent, wide enough for her to sit. Her fingers stretched out, barely grazing the limb. She would have to jump. Her eyes looked down. They were tearing through her things. She stayed clinging to the trunk as long as she could, knowing if she didn’t leap to the other branch, she was sure to have her muscles give out beneath her and land amongst the hungry, waiting wolves.
With a deep breath, Gale took the leap of faith. Her chest slammed hard against the bough. She gasped for air and clung for dear life, her legs kicking beneath her. Tears squeezed from her eyes as her feet flailed below. She could hear the wolves’ excitement, whimpering, and growling. She tried to pull herself up, but her muscles ached. Teeth snapped, clipping her boot. Gale screamed. Terror and primal instinct ripped through her. She pulled with all of her might and wiggled her chest above the branch. With newfound courage and focus, fueled by fear, Gale managed to swing her feet up.
She laid there panting, terrified of moving, hugging the tree for security. She opened her eyes to see the wolves leaping at her, taking turns. Each one startled her, and she cried out anew, afraid that the next jump would be the one to reach her. The wolf’s leap fell short by a couple of feet.
“Please, jus’ leave me alone,” she begged.
The wolves ignored her pleas.
Hopelessness clasped her heart. She was too scared to sit up despite the branch being wide enough to hold her. Gale was terrified of moving at all, and despite how exhausted she was, she knew to fall asleep likely meant her death.
There goes the last of the meat, she thought after her heart stilled a bit. The sounds of the wolves tearing through her belongings dragged her heart down. The most she could hope for was that the blanket was not torn to shreds, and her waterskin remained intact.
To comfort herself, Gale imagined what her destination might look like. She imagined Rosalie’s new home to be extravagant now that she was married to the McGregor’s clan chief. The thought of tender meat and a warm bed kept her from giving up and letting her muscles to relax. The problem was, it was hard to find comfort when she didn’t know how far she had come. It felt as if she’d spent months walking from her keep on the Scottish border. There was no telling how long she still had to go until she reached Loch Awe in the highlands.
In her mind, she tried to replay the journey. Years passed since the last time her father and mother traveled together to Loch Awe. The memory was painful—not only because of the deep longing in her chest for her beloved father but for all of the dramatic madness which ensued on that journey. They traveled in a cart then. What she would do for a chance to be holed up in a cart right then, an experience she’d loathed and complained about in the past.
Confused and overwhelmed, exhaustion made her eyelids heavy. She struggled to keep them open. The wolves refused to leave. Despite her struggles, sleep arrested her. She snapped wide awake as one of her toes slipped from the branch, reawakening the fear inside of her. Down below, the wolves howled, waiting for her to lose her grip and fall so they could feast.
The night crawled past, threatening to never end. Gale was vaguely aware of the wolves giving up, chasing after some unfortunate creature in the darkness. Still, she was too scared to climb down. It was too dark to see anything, and she imagined them waiting for her just within reach. Anytime she fell asleep, she would jolt awake, her fright too real and encompassing to let her body risk falling.
Gale stared out through the leaves and branches until the first fingers of dawn washed the world with gray. Birds sang and chirped with cheerful delight. It annoyed Gale to see the world move on around her misfortune. She did not gather the courage to climb down until the warmth of the sun was full on her face. Down below, she could see her small items scattered about. Oats were sprinkled over the dried leaves in all directions, left from the wolves’ tearing through her small parcel to get to the dried meat. The last of her food was all gone.
The young woman’s muscles trembled as she tried to climb down. She was past the point of exhaustion. On the last branch, her slender arms failed her. Her feet slipped on the trunk, and she fell flat on her back, the wind knocked out of her. Gale lay there, staring up at the sun filtering down between wide oak and birch leaves. When her breath returned to normal, she let the earth cradle her, grateful to be back on solid ground. Her mind was numb, too tired to think of anything except for the pain screaming from her stomach.
It took her a long time to pull herself into a sitting position. Everything was hazy and surreal, and it was impossible to tell if she had dozed for a moment while she lay there. She knew she needed to keep moving. With no food and no telling when she would see civilization again, she knew she must continue—no matter how much she just wanted to sleep at the base of the oak that saved her life.
As Gale sat, feeling each muscle threaten to quit, she reaffirmed her conviction to survive. I will not cry today. She looked around at the woods, their calm beauty mocking Gale’s fear throughout the previous night. I will find food. I’ve come too far to quit now. She let out a soft moan as she stood to assess the damage.
The blanket was torn in a few places and smelled awful. Gale felt tears burn the corners of her eyes. She could smell herself, too. A deep breath rattled through her lips, sucking the tears back inside. She squealed as her hand touched slobber, dropping the blanket back to the ground. A fit overcame her. With no one to bear witness, Gale stomped her feet and screamed out, letting all her anger and fear scare the birds from the trees. She tore through the leaves, searching for her scattered belongings.
To Gale’s relief, other than the damage to the blanket and her missing food stores, everything else was unbroken. She shook her waterskin. It was half full. With a glance up at the sun’s position, Gale took a small sip, reminding herself to ration what remained. She couldn’t think about what would happen next. The thought of not knowing how much longer her journey would take crushed her willpower. She had to focus on moving forward and nothing more.
One foot in front of the other, Gale trudged through the woods. When she broke through the trees, her heart burst with excitement. For the first time in a long time, she recognized where she was. In fact, as exhausted as she felt, she knew if she kept on, she would make it to Rosalie’s home within the next two days.
Her stomach grumbled. She might not make it for two days.
As her hunger and eagerness to reach her destination peaked, Gale spotted a small homestead. There was no one around, and she could see a small animal shack with two horses grazing outside. If I had one of those horses, I could make it to Rosalie tonight. Gale stood there, staring at the horses for a long time. Whoever owned the property was out in their fields or busy in their home. There was no one around for miles.
Gale stepped onto the low wooden fence corralling the horses. If anyone comes, I’ll just play dumb. In her mind, her appearance still reflected the respectability of the prim and groomed noblewoman she had been for her entire life. If she had fully understood how dirty and ragged she looked, she might have thought twice about risking stealing a horse. She had never stolen anything before, but the thought of warming herself by Rosalie’s fire pushed all thoughts of morality from her mind.
With a quick look about her, Gale decided to sprint to the animal shack. Knowing the coast was clear, she ran as fast as she could, terrified the owner of the property would appear at any second. Her heart pounded as she stepped into the cover of the lean-to and caught her breath. To her relief, it was unoccupied by any workers.
Everything she needed was there. Gale’s heart pounded in her chest, and her hands shook. She moved as quick as she could, afraid at any point she would be caught red-handed. She peeked out at the horses, taking in a full glimpse of the land for anyone. There was no one in sight. With a hand stuffed with hay, she was able to lure the smaller of the two towards her. A rush of excitement coursed through her as the pretty dappled draft horse ate the bits of dried grass, then nuzzled its muzzle into her palm.
Gale wasted no time. She always loved horses, but it was the second time in her life she ever prepared one by herself. Even when she fled from her keep, one of the working hands helped her in her escape. He helped her up into the saddle. Now, she struggled, climbing onto one of the stalls to get up. A whistle sounded in the distance. Someone was coming. Gale’s heart dropped into her stomach. She wasted no more time, nearly falling from the back of the creature as she slipped into the saddle. Her feet kicked into its hinds, and within moments she was blazing across the open grounds and kicking the horse to leap a short gate.
“Hey!” Someone screamed behind her. “That’s ma horse! Stop! Stop!”
Gale dared to look back over her shoulder. An old man ran across his property, trying to stop her. A wild laugh overcame Gale as she leaned into the horse’s neck, urging it to go faster. With every glimpse back, energy coursed through Gale’s veins as she saw the man’s silhouette shrinking in the distance. She could not stop laughing. It was the first time she had laughed in months. Even before her father was murdered, there was little to laugh about, and now, the insanity of the situation made her giggle without control.
I just stole a horse. She was amazed. Never in her life would she have imagined herself taking anything. She would have turned her nose up in disdain at anyone would even think of such a thing. Her mind coursed with thoughts of a warm bed and hot food. She kept the horse running until it tuckered out.
Gale drank the last sips of her water as the sun reached the highest point in the sky. The horse plodded forward with heavy, sure feet. She was sweating and starving. Guilt started to edge in now that the novelty wore off, now that the excitement of having done something so adventurous and unlike her ebbed away. Exhaustion settled back into her bones.
Between the heat and the hunger and the shame of now being a thief, by the time she saw the first signs of Loch Awe’s community, a paranoia set into Gale’s mind. They’re going to know this is not my horse. She knew it was a crazy thought. There is no way that man had overtaken her and alerted anyone. She would have seen him. Still, she could not look at anyone as she steered the mare towards Rosalie’s new home.
The closer she came to her destination, the heavier her body and mind were. She was done. She was almost there. Thirst made her throat sore and raw. Her stomach roared. Her muscles ached. The sun touched her, and she felt her cheeks burn from exposure. In the distance, she could see it now. The pastures rolling out beneath the mountains. The long dirt path winding into the homestead seemed to stretch on forever. Gale’s head pounded, and the sun and lack of sleep made her slightly delirious. I’m going to faint. She tried to keep her eyes focused ahead, but her head swam and vision blurred.
“Gale?” Rosalie’s voice drew Gale’s attention towards her.
Gale looked up and felt as if she was trying to see through moving water. She opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, and the words did not come. Her friend looked more beautiful now than ever, with the sun shining at her back and her belly swollen huge with child.
Rosalie reached out to grab the reigns. Gale could barely keep seated in the saddle. Her body ached, the strain of the previous night, finally setting into its full effect. She swallowed, trying to gather as much moisture in her mouth as she could.
“Rosalie,” was all Gale could say. It came out in a cracked, hoarse whisper. Gale barely recognized her own voice.
She tried to sit up straight, but a pain tore through her belly, and her head swooned as the blood rushed too fast to her brain. Rosalie’s hands reached up to her, touching her torso. Gale could not move. She was done, defeated. It was as if her body knew in every fiber that she had made it and could rest.
“Ye got tae help me, Gale.”
Gale let out a heavy sigh and slumped over, sliding her body down the horse. In her mind, she was graceful, but her body was not working like it normally did. Her muscles were past their breaking point, and her brain was fuzzy. Everything seemed to move like in a dream. It was as if her brain shut off for a moment, and the next thing she knew, she was falling instead of dismounting from the horse. Rosalie stumbled, trying to help her, but Gale fainted.
Her eyes fluttered open in confusion. The back of her neck and head throbbed. She didn’t know it was from thirst or if she’d hit her head. Rosalie screamed at something, but the words seemed to run together, Gale’s brain not working fast enough to keep up. She tried to stand up, but she stumbled. Rosalie’s strong hand grabbed her shoulder. She led her forward towards the small cottage, supporting most of Gale’s weight.
“Sit down,” Rosalie commanded.
Gale sat on the stone step. She looked up at Rosalie and felt humiliation spread over her. Rosalie’s face was filled with confusion and concern. Gale suddenly realized how terrible she must look, how horrible her state was, and with no warning or explanation. Gale remembered the last time she saw Rosalie, how her mad mother had whipped the woman and locked her up in the tower Gale came to know too well throughout her youth. There was an unspoken bond that formed between them then—but that was years ago. It suddenly occurred to Gale that Rosalie probably never wanted to see anyone from Gale’s family again—a reminder of the horrid period of her life.
“I’m sorry—” Gale’s voice cracked.
“Shh, not now.”
A little boy handed Gale a dipper filled with water. She drank greedy gulps, relishing the cold liquid through her searing throat. Streams of water rolled down her chin, and almost immediately, the fog started to ebb from her mind. She must think I am mad.
“I didn’t know where else to turn.”
Rosalie brushed her fingers over Gale’s hair, trying to calm her. The touch was more soothing than anything Gale had felt in her life. Such a simple gesture made her feel safe. She felt tears choking her again, and it made her feel pathetic and weak. The water and tender touch reawakened a manic fright within her. Gale’s eyes were wide, her body trembled. She tried to stand before Rosalie grabbed her wrist and pulled for her to sit back down.
“I want ye to sit fer a moment.”
A little girl poked her head out from the cottage. She hid behind the door. Gale caught the girl’s eye, looking her up and down. She felt self-conscious and foolish beneath the gaze of the bairn. Rosalie reached her hand out, and the girl handed her a hunk of bread before disappearing back into the cottage with a quick slam of the door.
Rosalie rolled her eyes at the display and turned to Gale. “Can ye eat?”
Gale nodded, “Aye, thank ye.” It took all over self-control not to snatch the bread and swallow it whole. She reminded herself to eat slowly after going so long without a real meal.
They sat in silence while Gale nibbled at the bread and recovered her strength. Rosalie would not let her speak until after she rested.
The next hour passed in a haze. The fire crackled inside, warming Gale and lulling her into a relaxed state. She obeyed Rosalie, letting the woman remove the ruined clothes and put her in something clean. Gale’s eyes fixed on the garment pulled from her body. It was worse than she thought, torn and stained. She shuddered, thinking about how Rosalie might perceive her and was grateful Rosalie was just a common woman and not someone of importance.
The two children, whom Rosalie introduced as Hamish and Thomasina, soon forgot their shyness and crowded around them. Gale cowered within her skin under their constant gazes. The cottage was not what she expected from a Highland Chief and his wife. Everything seemed to be in one room, although Gale noticed a couple doors indicating more space beyond. There was a single bed next to the fire, almost touching their table. Gale did not have the energy to judge or care as she would in normal circumstances. When Rosalie pulled back the covers for her, she climbed in and fell immediately into a deep sleep.
Someone touched Gale. She forgot, having made it to Rosalie. Her eyes flew wide in a panic, afraid she was asleep in the forest, and someone was trying to hurt her. She kicked out.
Rosalie held her tight, keeping her from thrashing. “Shh, tis alright. You’re safe now.”
“What’s wrong with her, Mama?” Thomasina played with her skirts. Gale watched the fabric swish back and forth, feeling small and embarrassed for her intrusion and desperation.
“She’s had a long journey, is all.”
Gale looked up at Declan. Rosalie’s husband looked at her, a scowl furrowing over her brow. She could see it all in his face; he was not feeling as generous as his wife. Gale could not tell if he was angry or afraid, but it made her wonder if she’d made a mistake by coming. Maybe I should have just stayed in the woods—lived there forever and risked the wolves eating me. Humiliation and self-pity and loathing burned her cheeks. She shrank under Declan’s stern gaze.
Gale took the glass, her hands noticeably shaking. The taste was velvet smooth. The rich bone broth calmed her and awakened her wits.
“Declan’s here, Gale, an’ we need to know what’s happenin’?”
Gale refrained from rolling her eyes. I’m not an idiot. I can see him judging me just fine. She crumpled over the cup and started to cry. Her bright blue eyes shone out like icy gems, contrasting against the reds and pinks of her irritated face. She tried to calm herself with deep breaths, her hands shaking as she forced down more of the broth.
“Pa is dead.” The image of his face was like someone stabbing her in the heart, “An’,” she sniffed, trying to keep from crying yet again, “an’ Ma, I think she means to kill me.” Gale did not want to look up at them and see their reaction. She snatched Rosalie’s hand and forced herself to peek up. Her eyes filled with desperation. “Please, I didn’t know who else tae go to. You must help me, Rosalie. There’s no one else I know who can.”
Declan grabbed the sleeve of Rosalie’s dress gently to pull her into a private conversation. Rosalie shrugged him off, intent on hearing Gale through before making a decision. “Calm down, Gale. Start from the beginnin’ an’ tell us what happened.”
Gale took a deep breath. “Ma kept gettin’ worse after ye left. She’d go through these states…” Gale squeezed her eyes shut as she thought of the things her mother did in her periods of madness—beating her, yelling at her, seeing things that were not there, and acting out in violence. “…Where she didn’t even recognize us. Sometimes thought we were different people—that she were different. This man came one day, said he were a doctor—that he could help her. Ma seemed to get better, but these delusions,” she gestured to the air, rolling her eyes up, “It were as if somethin’ possessed her when she’d have ‘em.” Gale struggled not to start crying again, “Her an’ this doctor were close. They got to a point where they were inseparable. Pa was gettin’ uncomfortable with it, said he weren’t helpin’ her anymore, an’ when he finally asked the doctor to leave, that’s when, when—” Sobs wracked her body.
Rosalie rubbed her back. Gale calmed herself enough to continue, the pitch of her voice squeaking with emotion. “The doctor said it were his heart…” Gale shook her head, remembering the wine glass spilling from her father’s hand and the way his face was distorted as if he choked to death. “After, within the week,” she exclaimed, “Ma started actin’ like it were her keep an’ talkin’ to an’ about that doctor as if they were already married. One o’ the workers made a comment abou’ how she weren’t the heir, I was. Ma and the doctor were in an outrage, fightin’ all evening.
“That night, he came into my room…” Gale closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, trying to force the feel of his hands, grabbing her from her memory. Her words burst out like venom pulled from a wound. “He tried to lay with me. He tried to convince me to marry him, that it was I he loved, not my mother, an’ when I refused him, he—he—” She started crying again. She couldn’t say it out loud, not with Declan there just staring at her. “I managed to get away, an’ this was the only place I knew I’d be safe from ‘em.”
Declan paced around the room, looking out the small shutters for signs of danger. “Do ye ken if ye were followed?” Gale shook her head in negation. “Rosie, outside.”
Rosalie smiled at Gale. “Jus’ give us a moment.” She turned to her children. “Hamish, stoke the fire. Thomasina, keep our guest comfortable.”
Gale could hear the occasional raised voice as Declan and Rosalie talked just outside. She wrung her hands. If they turned her away, there was nowhere to go. If they didn’t help her and hide her, it was over. She knew she could not endure anymore.
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