Wishing For A HighlanderBy: Jessi Gage
Her libido disappeared with a poof. She hopped off the wagon, dodging hands that had no business being so quick, considering how large they were.
“Don’t you dare tie me down! I’ve got to get that box. It’s my only hope to return home.”
He lunged for her, catching her easily around the waist with his long arm, and plunking her back in the wagon. Libido was back. Her body thrilled at Darcy’s manhandling, though her muscles struggled against it.
The thought of him tying her up in private might have some merit, but not in the middle of the forest with several strange men as witnesses. “Okay, okay,” she blurted as he looped the rope around one wrist. “I won’t follow you. Please don’t tie me. I’ll stay. I’ll help.”
He paused to eye her suspiciously.
“I promise,” she said. “I’ll stay here and make myself useful. As long as you promise to look for a rosewood box inlaid with white gold and about yea big.” She gestured with her hands, rope trailing from one wrist. “As long as you swear to look as though your life depends on it.” She held his gaze, hoping he was getting how important this was to her, hoping she could trust him.
The circle of wounded men went quiet, waiting for his answer.
He bounced on the balls of his feet, clearly impatient to return to the skirmish, but he gave her his full attention and said, “I vow that if your cherished box is on that field, I will find it.”
She relaxed at the sincerity in the promise. “It would be near where you found me,” she said. “If it’s not there, then–” She forced herself to say the rest past her tight throat. “Then I don’t think you’ll find it anywhere.” And I might be stuck here forever.
He nodded his understanding, then wheeled around and strode from the clearing.
“Damn,” one of the wounded men said. “I’d hoped to watch Big Darcy bind the feisty lass.”
The other men chuckled. Some of the chuckles ended in pained groans.
She scowled at one and all as she shook the rope from her wrist, but her scowl quickly slipped away. Some of the men were horribly injured. One had a bandage wrapped around his thigh and soaked through with blood. The bandage was obviously not tight enough to slow the blood flow from what must be a serious gash. Another had a chest wound. He didn’t grin at her like the others, but lay still except for his jumping chest. Pink blood frothed from a wound under his armpit. Another man held a bloody rag to his neck, and an ugly bump under his skin looked like a broken collarbone. Another had a head wound that needed stitches.
She slid down off the cart and found Archie. “How can I help?”
* * * *
“I’m afraid you might be stuck with me, Darcy Keith.”
Making his way back to Berringer’s field, he tried to forget those sweetly drawled words, but found himself thinking instead that being stuck with a bonny woman with lush curves and a streak of bravery belying her slight stature wouldn’t be such a terrible fate. But thoughts like that were neither useful nor prudent. ’Twas impossible for him to do full honor to a woman by giving her a proper marriage bed and children. Thus he had no business thinking of any woman with longing, especially one so small.
He had to help his clan first, but once the Gunn were off their land, he’d find the woman’s–Melanie’s–cherished box. She said it was her only way home, and home was precisely where he wanted her. Safe with her own people. Far from his futile desires.
Mayhap the box was the only possession she had and she meant to sell it to buy her way back to her people. He still didn’t ken what people those might be, but they certainly weren’t Scottish and he believed her when she said she wasn’t English; her odd speech alone proved as much. Whoever her people were, it was plain she desperately wanted to return to them. Well, he’d help her do just that, and good riddance to her.
By the time he ran back onto the field where his clan had clashed with the Gunn for the third time since Hogmany, and it only April, his kinsmen had driven most of them back over the border. All that was left was to help a few of the battered back to Archie’s wagon where they’d all gather before journeying home to Ackergill.
He carried wee John, who had a gash to his arse that made walking awkward, while Gabe limped along with a little help from his free arm. After depositing the men in Archie’s clearing and contenting himself with the sight of the woman dutifully washing Symond’s sliced shoulder, he returned to where he’d found her to look for her box.
It took naught but two open eyes to find it. The thing lay half buried in the same mud puddle he’d pushed her into. He lifted it out of the muck and used a corner of his plaid to clean it. A bonny thing it was. Shiny and smooth with rounded edges and inlaid knotwork of white metal on the lid, just like she’d said. ’Twould certainly bring her enough coin to buy passage on a vessel if ’twas over water she needed to go.
He turned the box over to scrub mud from the bottom. An inscription emerged: MacLeod, 1542. Inverness.
He nearly dropped the thing.