Jaid Black - scottish highlands 01 - after the storm
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Jaid Black - scottish highlands 01 - after the storm Document Transcript

  • 1. “After the Storm” An Ellora’s Cave Electronic Publication in association with author: Tia Isabella (pseudonym for Jaid Black) ISBN # 1-84360-019-6 All Rights Reserved. http://www.ellorascave.com/ © Copyright Tia Isabella, 2001. This book/e-book may not be reproduced in whole or in part by email forwarding, copying, fax, or any other mode of communication without author and publisher permission. Edited by Lee Haskell Prologue 1314 AD, The Scottish Highlands Near Strathy Point The MacGregor dismounted from his horse, his clothes and body smeared with the caked dirt that seemed to go hand-in-hand with long trips and dismal weather. He glanced down at his commander-at-arms and flashed him a rare half smile.
  • 2. The battle was over and the English vermin had been driven back to their dens of iniquity, forced to recognize the Bruce as the one true ruler of the Scots. No more would the king of all Scotland be forced to bow low to the whims of the English monarchy. Scotland had been purged of its pariah and the MacGregor was proud and honored to have been a part of making that eventuality come to pass. The laird and his men were finally home. Back to loyal clansmen and lusty wenches. Back to good ale and hearty food. Back to the Highlands. Home. “Och, but ‘tis good tae see ye again Thomas,” a voice boomed out from the direction of the keep. The MacGregor turned around to greet one of the elders from his clan. He nodded respectfully to him then patted him heartily on the back. “’Tis good tae be home, John. Come inside and take the evening meal with my men and me. I should like a full report from ye on everything that has happened in my leave.” John nodded and smiled. “’Tis an honor, my lord.” Thomas, the MacGregor, tossed the reins of his mount to a waiting stable lad and walked toward the doors of his keep. He didn’t bother to wait for John, or for Sir Dugald, his commander-at-arms, for he knew both men were right at his heels. Thomas flicked the heavy wooden doors open with a faint motion of his wrist and strode into the great hall to wait for his meal. The laird sighed in satisfaction as he took a look around him. The array of food spread out before him, the sounds of serving wenches scurrying about to do his bidding, the laughter of his men echoing throughout the keep—‘twas truly good to be home. ‘Twas the memory of his hall and his lands that had warmed him all those dreary, long nights at Bannockburn, and then again at the ever jaded court. Sir Dugald watched Thomas’s reactions keenly, understanding all too well how he felt. He smiled and raised a tankard in salute to him, never expecting the MacGregor to smile back. ‘Twas something he simply did not do. So, the commander-at-arms was not surprised when Thomas raised his tankard to him and nodded in return, no smile to be found. Sir Dugald took a long swig from his tankard then set it down and attacked his much anticipated meal. He chewed thoughtfully on a piece of pheasant, watching the keep’s activity bustle about him while he ate. He grinned and rolled his eyes when he noticed the worried expressions writ across the faces of the serving wenches who were all but tripping over one another in a race to placate the MacGregor. Nay, worried wasn’t the right word. Terrified was more to the point. ‘Twas as if they feared that making the slightest mistake in his presence would incur his wrath. Sir Dugald realized that the laird was a harsh looking man. Aside from being tall and thickly muscled, the MacGregor’s countenance was as black as his hair and eyes. He never laughed, rarely smiled, and thought nothing of bellowing orders to women with the same ferociousness that he bellowed commands at his men. In keeping with his dark looks and brooding countenance, the MacGregor’s reputation was just as fierce. ‘Twas said he could kill a man with his bare hands without so much as breaking into a sweat. ‘Twas also said no clan would dare attack MacGregor land for fear of the laird’s retribution. Aye, ‘twas all true, but he still couldn’t fathom why women cowered before the laird so. He had never brought harm to any female after all. Even during raids when the MacGregors stole womenfolk from competing clans, the laird had never allowed the wenches to be ill-used. He would force them to choose a husband from amongst clansmen who were willing to take them to wife, but he had never forced them to
  • 3. submit to relations with any and all MacGregors that wanted between their thighs. Sir Dugald grinned as he continued to watch the activity about him. The wenches in the keep had to be aware of the fact that the MacGregor would bring them no harm, yet they still ran around like skittish colts bolting from an impending threat. He shook his head bemusedly. Thomas had been gone a long time, without the benefit of a wench in his bed, and ‘twas a certainty the laird didn’t intend to spend his first night back at the keep wooing anybody. ‘Twas no wonder the MacGregor had no use for wenches outside of the bedchamber. He couldn’t respect cowardice in anyone, be they a man or a woman. Sir Dugald caught the laird frowning intently at the women hustling around him and laughed. He acceded to the fact that the MacGregor must have been thinking along the same lines that he was. “Worrying that the wenches willna fall intae bed with ye, Thomas?” The MacGregor scowled at his commander-at-arms, causing the elder John to bellow a laugh before he gulped more ale from his tankard. “No’ tae fear laird. The lassies might be scared tae get intae yer bed but they willna tell ye nay.” Thomas rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t take an unwilling woman. Aye, he would be ridden tonight, but the wench would want it. As frightened of him as the majority of womenfolk were, there were still those that would fall willingly into his bed for the promise of pleasure alone. At six feet and five and as thick with muscle as the trunk of a tree, he was monstrously huge for sure, but luckily that attribute carried over into every of his physical realms. The laird turned his attention from his lusty thoughts and focused them on the elder. “So tell me John, has all been well here?” John nodded emphatically, assuring him that he had seen to the needs of the clan well in his stead. “Aye my lord, naught but goodness has happened in yer absence. The number of cattle were increased by a third and the crops were bountiful this harvest. We will see through this winter with no trouble a’tall in feedin’ our own.” The MacGregor nodded, satisfied. “Any trouble with the MacAllisters?” he inquired without much emotion in his rumble of a voice. “Nay,” John denied, “they brought us no trouble a’tall.” The elder unsheathed his dagger and tore into the platter of meats that had been placed into the hollowed out piece of bread before him. He drew a plump helping of fish to his mouth, then stopped before biting into it. “How was the fightin’, my lord? By the saints, how I miss being young enough tae battle!” Sir Dugald laughed. “Dinna ye ha’ any amusements in the keep whilst we were gone?” John rolled his eyes heavenward. “Amusements? If ye call settlin’ petty arguments a’tween a bunch of squawkin’ lassies amusin’, then aye, I was amused tae kingdom come.” Sir Dugald bellowed even louder. The MacGregor didn’t smile, but a twinkle could be seen in his eyes—the usual indication that he was well humored. John’s comment brought Thomas’s thoughts back to his empty bedchamber. He darted his eyes around the hall and noticed the various glances some of the bolder women were favoring him with. As always, there were more than a few wenches willing to be ridden hard for a few hours. The MacGregor caught the eye of Matilde, a widow he had never tried before. He didn’t know much of the serving wench, only that she was originally from France but had married into the MacGregor clan several years ago. Her husband Gideon had been killed by a wild boar a few months before Thomas had left with his men for Bannockburn, thus now she worked inside of the keep with the other widowed women. Just as Thomas was about to settle his intentions on Matilde, he noticed the angry scowl writ across the wench Judith’s face. Judith had the honor of being his favored before he left the
  • 4. keep, so she probably wouldn’t take well to him using Matilde afore herself. Thomas sighed. Wenches. They knew jealousies that a man never felt, at least not this man. Ever the gentleman, the MacGregor forsook his intentions of tumbling Matilde and favored Judith with a telling wink and a directive nod toward his bedchamber door. Judith blushed and ran up the stairs to wait for him to come to her. John cleared his throat, aware of the fact that the laird wouldn’t be hanging around the hall for much longer. He would be heading for his bedchamber any moment now and the saints only knew how long it would be before he emerged again. The MacGregor had been known for his lusty appetite even afore he had left for war. Without benefit of a woman’s pleasures for the while he had been gone, ‘twas likely that Judith wouldn’t be able to walk in the morn. “Laird, there are a couple of things I should mention tae ye and Dugald afore ye retire fer the eve.” Thomas turned his gaze to the elder and nodded. John took that as a signal to continue. “There ha’ been strange weather occurrences in the hills as of late.” Thomas shrugged, looking at Sir Dugald. The commander-at-arms took a swallow of ale before responding to John’s benign comment. “So?” The elder sighed, shrugging as he spoke to Sir Dugald. “I doubt ‘tis anything tae worry aboot, but a few of the elders of the council thought it best that I should inform the laird of it. They are fearing it an omen, and are much afraid that it will cause the herds distress.” Sir Dugald nodded and turned to Thomas. The laird seemed unimpressed by the council elders’ worries. “What kind of weather occurrences?” Thomas finally asked. “In the fields atop the cliffs the herders ha’ been complaining of some strange happenin’s. ‘Twas said more than once that a portion of the sky up and turned black as the night in the blink of an eye. Hard rains, wind, and lightnin’ were enclosed within. They claim tae ha’ seen bands of color throughout the black mass and then, as quickly as it appeared, ‘twas gone.” Thomas looked thoughtful as he pondered what the elder had told him. “The herders dinna think them regular storms?” “Nay,” John denied, shaking his head. “They say ‘tis odd, but only one portion of the sky turns black and storms, whilst the rest of the skies are as blue as the grass is green.” Sir Dugald knit his brows together and looked to the laird. “Mayhap we should ride tae the hills on the morrow, my lord.” Thomas agreed, then stood to take his leave. “On the morrow, then. Fer now I bid ye both good eve.” John and Sir Dugald watched Thomas stride from the hall to the staircase. “My lord!” John called out, “I almost forgot.” Thomas cocked his head. “Aye?” “’Tis aboot the Hamiltons,” John continued. “Three of their men ha’ offered fer the widows Mary, Judith, and Matilde. They are willin’ tae give up cattle and crops tae take them off our hands. Are ye agreeable?” Thomas nodded without hesitation. “Aye, I know that they lost many womenfolk in their battle with the Hays. Ye can send Mary and Judith tae the Hamilton on the morrow.” John smiled, satisfied. “And Matilde, my lord?” Thomas pondered the question for less than a moment then curled his mouth humorlessly. “Aye, ye can send her tae, but no’ fer a few days. I should like tae try her afore she takes her leave.” John and Dugald laughed at that. “In a few days then, my lord,” John agreed. The laird nodded, then turned and took the steps two at a time. Matilde was for the morrow’s pleasures, but tonight there was Judith.
  • 5. The moment he reached the heavy wooden doors to his bedchamber, Thomas threw them open and strode inside. Judith was waiting, sitting demurely on the bed, a blush settled across her cherub’s cheeks. He sighed. As many times as he had bedded the lass, was it too much to ask that he not have to woo her every time they took a tumble together? He wasn’t up to cajoling her into riding him and assuring her that it was her duty to see to her laird’s needs, that she needn’t feel guilty for the pleasure of it. Still, the MacGregor was no savage. If he needed to woo Judith to get his tumble, then woo her he would. Thomas looked at the serving wench and curled one side of his lip upward in an awkward smile, aware of the fact that a lass seemed to desire that small token of caring before they bedded their master. “Stand up, Judith,” he bellowed as he removed his sword and let his plaid drop to the floor. His thickly erect shaft sprang free as he motioned for the lass to rise. Judith obeyed him immediately, moving to stand in front of her laird, her eyes downcast toward his feet. Thomas nodded, satisfied that his generous attempt at a semi-smile had made the wooing complete. “Remove yer clothes, wench.” Chapter 1 2001 AD, Tampa, Florida It looked like a ghost town. It was barely the middle of the day yet not a single car could be found idling down the street. The neon signs weren’t flashing. The tourists weren’t blocking traffic, weren’t annoying the hell out of the natives as they endeavored to study their maps and drive at the same time. There were no prostitutes roaming the streets scouting for potential johns. Hell, there wasn’t even a solitary cop hanging around the local donut shop. All in all, the scene was pretty damn spooky. It was as if the city’s inhabitants had gotten up and collectively walked away. Maya Jones took in the sight around her through narrowed, speculative eyes as she plowed down Kennedy Avenue doing 65 in a 45 zone. Something just wasn’t right. Perhaps she had been an archeologist for too long, but the more she pondered the sheer emptiness of one of the busiest streets in her hometown, the more fitting the creepy comparison between Tampa and a lost civilization seemed. Roanoake. Yes, that’s what the vacant environment brought to mind. This was just like the colony of Roanoke, Virginia that had been established in 1585, then later found abandoned by English explorers, with no hint as to where the pilgrims might have wandered off to…or been taken to. The only message that had been left behind was the single word “CROATOAN” which had been carved into the trunk of a tree. Whether the message had been written by a pilgrim or by a murderer, well, archeologists still haven’t figured that one out. “Would ya slow down, Maya, before we get pulled over?” Maya snapped her scattered attention back from 1585, channeled it into the year 2001, and leveled it into the gaze of her driving companion and best friend, Dr. Sara Chance. “Huh?” Sara smiled, bemused by Maya’s distraction. If she knew Maya, and she most definitely did know Maya, then there was no doubt that her oldest and dearest friend was pondering the significance of Tampa’s empty streets. Maya had never been one to accept anything at face value. She would probe and dig and inquire until she was satisfied that she knew the ins and outs of any riddle that was put to her.
  • 6. Of course, that’s also what made Maya a great archeologist. When she excavated a site, she excavated the hell out of it. No stone was left unturned, no theory left unexplored. Dr. Maya Jones was the best. Every bit as good as herself, Sara mused. “I highly doubt we’re going to get pulled over, Sara. There isn’t a cop in sight. Hell, there isn’t anybody in sight.” Maya glanced in Sara’s direction as she brought the canteen of coffee nestled between her thighs up to her lips for a sip. She gulped down a hearty swallow and sighed in satisfaction. Sara grinned, holding out her hand for a sip of the hot Colombian brew. Once she felt sated, she turned her attention back to her best friend. “Okay Maya, what are you thinking?” Maya suppressed a dramatic sigh. She should have known that her thoughts wouldn’t go undetected from Madame Sleuth. The woman knew her too well. That’s what comes from being friends with someone since childhood. “Exactly what you think I’m thinking—that this city looks a bit weird right now.” Sara nodded, her expression taking on a playful quality to it. “Maya darling, I hate to be the one that rains on your parade of intellectual discovery, but most people have already evacuated and headed inland due to the hurricane that’s on its way. The eye is supposed to come right up the coast after all.” Maya whipped her head around. “Hurricane? What hurricane?” Sara laughed then patted Maya on the knee. “Watch the road, not me,” she chastised as she brought the canteen up to her mouth for another swallow. “If you ever bothered to pick up a newspaper or switch on a TV you’d realize that there is much more to life than old bones and ruins.” “I hate the paper, too depressing,” Maya interjected, “and TV—well I just don’t find it as exciting as a good book.” “As it happens,” Sara continued, without responding to Maya’s appraisal of the modern day entertainments, “we’re expecting the biggest storm Tampa has ever encountered. We are, no doubt, two of only a mere handful of fools still hanging around to watch the drama unfold.” A hurricane. Ha! She should have known. Her thirst for explanations quenched, Maya regarded Sara thoughtfully. “So, do you want to stay put or do you want to go inland?” Sara chuckled. “What do you think?” Maya turned her attention fully to the road with a grin on her face. “I think that, like me, you want to watch the storm.” Sara nodded and quickly added, “plus I heard that Pete and the gang are throwing a hurricane party.” She rolled her eyes. “You know how they get off on sitting on the beach and getting loaded while they watch the storm ride in.” Maya’s grin widened as she thought about Pete’s last hurricane party. Only native Floridians and a few brave souls that had relocated from the north had been there. The majority of their friends had fled at first promise of a storm, heading off to cities like Orlando to ride the ominous weather out. Maya and Sara were like Pete—they had grown up with the threat of hurricanes all of their lives, lived through quite a few of them, and actually grew to anticipate the nervous excitement that came each time a new threat loomed. Nah, they wouldn’t leave. They’d stay at home, work on some of their research, then head over to Pete’s for beer and barbecue when the storm drew closer. “This year it’s going to be a bit different,” Sara reflected giddily, “the party that is!” Maya eyeballed Sara curiously. It wasn’t like Sara to get excited over a party. Hell, it wasn’t like Sara to get excited over anything. The woman was unflappably serene and
  • 7. undeniably stoic. Sorta like the Rock of Gibraltar with boobs. Oddly enough, the fact that Maya and Sara were polar opposites in both personality and temperament was what made their personal friendship and professional relationship work out so wonderfully. Maya was the spirited one, quick to laugh and easily brought to temper. She was an idealist, a head-in-the-clouds philosopher—an Aquarius. To their friendship, Maya brought zest and fun. To their working partnership, she brought the ability to see beyond the black and white and look deeper into the mysteries of the past to form grand theories for their archeological discoveries. Sara, on the other hand, was everything calm, placid, and logical. She was a realist, a pragmatist—a Capricorn. To their friendship, she brought stability and calm. To their work, she brought sound business decisions, wise handling of the grant monies, and a Ph.D. in ancient languages that aided Maya to no end in figuring out what significance unearthed relics carried to whatever long ago dead peoples they were currently researching. Yep, Sara was the most collected person, male or female, that Maya had ever known. To see her so obviously excited about a hurricane party made her curiosity pique. “So what’s the difference between this party and good ‘ole Pete’s other ones?” Sara grinned. “It’s a costume party. Pete figured that since it’s so close to the end of October we might as well combine the two and have a Halloween Hurricane Party.” Maya chuckled. “Yep, that sounds like Pete alright.” She was quiet for a moment, then nudged Sara with an elbow. “What are you going to go as?” “I don’t know,” Sara admitted. “We’ll be too busy researching to go shopping so I was thinking of going as a sexy female Satan again. I still have that red clingy number from last year in the apartment somewhere.” Maya sighed. “You’re right. We don’t have any time to be creative. We’re supposed to leave for Scotland in what, a month? Yeah, we have far too much legwork to do on that project before we commence the rest of the dig. I guess I’ll be going as the same thing I was last year too.” Sara frowned. “Uh, perhaps I’m getting a little senile here, but I forget what you were last year.” Maya smiled wryly. “Elvira, of course.” ***** “It’s good to be home.” Maya inhaled a cathartic breath and plopped herself down onto the sofa. She stretched out her legs and yawned as she watched Sara make a beeline for the bathroom door. “Gonna shower?” she asked conversationally as she closed her eyes and relaxed. “Yep,” Sara responded without looking back, “and you better take one after I do in case we lose the hot water for a few days.” Maya opened her eyes with a groan as the bathroom door clicked shut. Sara was right. She had better wait to fall asleep at least until after she bathed because the hurricane could very well affect their ability to get running water for a while. Besides, the emergency dig they just got back from handling had put them off of their research on the Highlander clan they were studying for the better part of three days. Now they had a heck of a lot of catching up to do before that plane ride to the UK next month. It’s a good thing she and Sara are roomies, Maya decided, because they would be able to work through the night tonight if need be to make up for the time they lost while on their emergency expedition.
  • 8. Emergency expedition. Maya had never realized just how many emergencies an archeologist would come across until she’d been in graduate school. It’s not like dead people ever need a doctor or anything. She had previously thought of emergencies as being exclusive to the realm of M.D.s, not Ph.D.s, but she and Sara had been corrected on that score before their first term in grad school was out. The emergencies were fun though—dashing out in the middle of the night to secure a scene before anyone tampered with it, analyzing and theorizing the data they found at the digs—it was a great time. The work was dirty, the days long and the nights longer, but it was worth it. The emergency excavation they had just drove in from had happened along Alligator Alley en route to Miami. A midnight construction team accidentally unearthed some old bones, pottery, and necklaces during a routine inspection of the site they were planning to drill on. They called in Maya’s team immediately, knowing from having worked with her in the past that she would blister their ears until they were tempted to strangle her if they commenced drilling before the relics had been properly dug up and catalogued for later analysis at the university. The relics had been Indian and much to the delight of her team, very, very old. Just how old remained to be seen, but Maya could barely contain her enthusiasm of having her hunch confirmed. She would have to wait for her grad students at the lab to finish the analyses, but she surmised from the layer of strata that the relics had been located in and from the bits of archaic symbols that Sara had decoded on the pottery that the tribe had to have been Paleolithic. The probables were definitely in favor of her theory. Probables? Good grief! She was beginning to think like Sara. Sara always thought in statistics and talked in probables. “Probables” was Sara’s abbreviated way of saying “the probability of”. She began most of her sentences with the phrase, “probables are that …” At any rate, if the probables turned out to be true, and this tribe of Indians had roamed North America during the Old Stone Age, then this would be the oldest evidence found that suggested there were peoples in Florida before the plates in the earth shifted and the Bering Straight opened up. Exciting stuff. “Ouch!” Maya grimaced as her pet iguana pounced on her midsection. Talk about a jolt back to reality. “Jeez Fred, I really need to trim those toenails. You can do some serious damage with those things.” Fred stuck out his lizard’s tongue and lapped at Maya’s face, seemingly oblivious to any discomfort his rambunctious greeting might have caused her. She grinned and scratched his head. “I missed you too, boy.” Grimacing, Maya heaved in a breath as Barney, Sara’s iguana, jumped on her belly to join Fred. She smiled at the equally tenacious lizard and reassuringly scratched his head. “Now Barney, you know I missed you too. But you’re gonna make Fred here jealous.” Maya gave them both kisses then shooed Fred and Barney off of her stomach and sat up. “You guys are getting too old for this. You’re both nearly six feet long, what with your tails included. You aren’t lightweights anymore boys.” Maya glanced in the direction of the bathroom when she heard the door squeak open. Sara emerged in a satiny white robe, her long black hair encased within the towel atop her head. “Your turn,” she announced as she glided over to the sofa and plopped down. “With pleasure.” Maya wiggled her eyebrows comically, making Sara laugh, as she shot to her feet and dashed toward the now vacant shower. *****
  • 9. The colors danced within the blackness and the demon wenches did thus appear. The dragons danced to do their bidding and soon the men fell near. Behold! The wenches were no demons, but enchantresses who came to dwell here. Maya frowned. “Okay, aside from being a really cheesy attempt at poetry writing, what the hell does that mean?” She stood up to pour herself another cup of coffee while Sara contemplated the bit of prose that the University of Glasgow had uncovered, photocopied, and sent over in a mailer. The poetry had been photocopied from the original goatskin it had been written on back in what they were guessing to be the early 1300s. That, along with a bundle that contained the photocopies of other relics, had been mailed over to the States by an excavation team in the Highlands for the American team to get acquainted with. The Castle MacGregor had been thoroughly excavated a long time ago, but it wasn’t until just recently that archeologists in Scotland had discovered a secret lair within the keep that had been used to house some of the Highlanders’ most sacred artifacts. Much was already known of the MacGregor clan, namely that they were uncharacteristically prosperous for a Highlander people, that they were medically advanced for their time period but hadn’t shared their secrets with outsiders, and that they had survived and flourished for quite a few centuries, well into the 1700s in fact. But now scientists had the chance to learn even more, and Maya and Sara were thrilled to be a part of the discovery process. The package sent over by the Scottish team of archeologists contained a great many copies of some original relics, relics that they wouldn’t actually get a chance to see until they went to the Highlands next month. The Scottish team wanted to give the American team as much of a background on the discovery as possible, so the package had been delivered to Maya and Sara with all speed. “I’m not sure yet what it means, but it’s quite interesting,” Sara concluded as she regarded the papers through a magnifying glass. “There are at least five documents here that make a reference to these demon wenches.” Maya chuckled as she sat down with her mug of coffee and handed a refilled cup to Sara. “Typical men. The women they wrote about must not have been the types to put up with their bullshit. Therefore, they labeled them demons.” Sara grinned. “That’s definitely possible. From what I can gather, however, these demon wenches came to be important to the MacGregor clan.” Maya quirked an eyebrow. “Perhaps the women were mythical then? You know, a fable that the Highlanders fashioned?” Sara nodded, a serious expression smothering her face. “That’s very possible, but…” “But what?” Maya prodded when it was obvious that Sara wasn’t going to continue her thought any time soon. “I don’t know.” Sara sighed. “It’s just that that conclusion doesn’t feel right to me.” Maya sat up straighter in her chair as she grew more interested in the puzzle spread out before them. “Why not?” “Well,” Sara began, “from what I’ve been able to glean from these other records, it appears that our demon wenches later married into the clan. It seems one of the women actually became lady to the MacGregors and the other married a high ranking soldier named Sir Dugald, though I’m not yet certain as to whom this Dugald was to the clan in terms of his function or importance.” Maya smiled her cat’s grin. “Ah, then the illustrious demon wenches really were real, and were no doubt thought to be nagging shrews by the MacGregor men.”
  • 10. Sara laughed as she picked up her cup of coffee and drew it to her lips. “Yes, the probables are that you’re right on the money.” She grinned. “Though the clansmen no doubt came to accept the shrews as time went on.” Maya rolled her eyes heavenward. “Men.” A few hours later, Sara set aside the document she’d been translating and stared in awe at the photograph her partner was holding. “Wow Maya, I never realized that Castle MacGregor was so awesome looking in its heyday.” Maya agreed as she put a second picture in front of her. “This is another photograph of the painting that the Scottish team found. It’s very rare for a medieval laird to commission a painting on a castle, so this was a gem of a find indeed.” Sara nodded as she traced her fingers along the castle moats that had been detailed in the painting. “An impregnable fortress in its day, no doubt.” “No doubt,” Maya murmured. The two women sat in companionable silence as they studied every inch of the photographs. They took in each tower and memorized the exquisite details of every parapet. The Castle MacGregor was awesome according to modern architectural standards. It was no wonder the laird of this clan had been considered all-powerful during his lifetime. This keep was structured far more fantastically than the typical medieval Scottish tower house. “Thomas was his name,” Maya offered. “I gathered that much from some of the documents I’ve read over but haven’t yet been translated by you.” Sara nodded, not in the least bit surprised. Maya didn’t speak Latin as Sara did, but she was remarkably adept at Old Gaelic and Old English and was therefore able to translate parts of the records for herself. “Yes,” Sara confirmed. “The name Thomas appears in the old documents a lot. It seems that he lived to a ripe old age and ruled over the clan for many years.” Maya threw one of her unruly golden curls over her shoulder and regarded Sara with a steady gaze. “I’m not sure if I read it accurately because a lot of it was in Latin, but I got the feeling that he was a very feared man. Not just by his own clan, but supposedly by competing clans as well.” Sara nodded. “That’s true enough. There are countless stories of battles told in these old records and Thomas’s name comes up quite a few times in each of them. In fact, the only name that comes up almost as much, though not nearly as often, is that of this Sir Dugald character.” Maya squinted her eyes as she worked her fingers through her hair. “What do you make of him? Sounds like he was the laird’s commander-at-arms or something, eh?” Sara nodded again. “Probables are that he was.” Her voice trailed off wistfully as she continued. “He was certainly an interesting enough character.” Maya quirked an eyebrow. “Interesting?” Sara shrugged, a blush settling across her cheeks. “He’s been described in the records as a man that is loyal to his laird and kinsmen and quick to retaliate against those that would do his people harm, while at the same time possessing a fun-loving and affable personality. In short, the perfect man.” Maya smiled as she picked up on that telling tidbit. Jeez and she thought she’d been a little weird getting a crush on the hero in the last Dara Joy novel she’d read. “Not developing an affection for a seven hundred-year-old ghost are you?” Sara rolled her eyes. “I’m not that lame, darling.” Maya winked. “Certainly not.” *****
  • 11. The MacGregor thought his lady a demon and the devil he cannot abide. Surely it ‘twas good she be a lady or he would have burned her hide… Maya wrinkled her nose as she and Sara contemplated the latest reference they had found concerning the demon wenches. “I wonder who Thomas MacGregor commissioned to write his poetry—the court jester?” Sara laughed. She wanted to respond but she was too tired to think, let alone conjecture on who the author of the seven-hundred-year-old document had been. She stretched her arms above her shoulders and yawned like a sleepy cat. “It’s two o’ clock in the morning and we have been at this for hours. I say we call it a night.” Maya sighed. “We probably should. I’m too tired to be useful anyway.” She pulled herself up to her feet and cleaned up their work area. After putting away the laptop, she brushed the crumbs from the pizza she and Sara had split into the garbage can and made her way into the kitchen to wash out the two coffee mugs they had been drinking from. A few minutes later, Maya climbed into bed. She was more tired than she could ever remember being, but too restless to sleep. Damn but this always happened when she and Sara were embroiled in a new project! And now they had two new projects to keep them up late at night theorizing over. First the Indian find and now the Highlander one. She loved her work, but the adrenaline rush it often generated wreaked havoc on trying to relax and go to sleep. An hour later Maya finally drifted off into a deep slumber. She dreamed of demon wenches and dragons, of castles and clansmen, and of a heart-stopping hunk named Thomas. Even asleep she recognized the irony of it. After all, she had had the gall to tease Sara about developing a crush on a seven hundred-year-old dead man. It occurred to Maya that she was better off lusting after the hunks brought forth from Dara Joy’s imagination. Chapter 2 Maya and Sara worked throughout the rest of the next morning and afternoon. Sara translated a total of seven documents in that amount of time, a personal record for her. Maya studied the photographs of the other bits of archaic artwork, jewelry, and pottery that had been sent over by the Scottish team, elaborating more and more on her theory of who the demon wenches were and what role they had played in the clan with each piece. Between the odes that had been written about Lady M, as the author later called the demon wench that married Thomas, and the artwork that had been commissioned by the MacGregor to capture the likeness of his wife, it was quite obvious to Maya that this mysterious lady had been extremely important to her adoptive clan. And Thomas had obviously loved her very much. He had to have. After all, she was certain from other documents Sara had translated that the laird had been a harsh man that people naturally cowered to. He wouldn’t have been the type to succumb to something that would have seemed trivial to him, especially to matters of the heart as esoteric as love. That would have been beneath a man like Thomas. Yep, good ole Lady M had knocked the bully on his ass and turned his world inside out and upside down. Just what he deserved as far as Maya was concerned. It was a shame that the two paintings that had been created in his wife’s likeness seven centuries ago hadn’t been able to survive intact a fire that had swept the castle a little over two hundred years ago, because Maya was curious to know what Lady M had looked like. The images were now severely charred and therefore unsalvageable. The only thing she’d been
  • 12. able to make out was the lady’s hair and one eye. Lady M had possessed a long mane of golden curls and tri-colored eyes that contained rings of green and blue with flecks of gold near the pupils. Just like herself, she mused. She took a bite off of the chicken salad sandwich she had whipped up a few minutes ago and further contemplated the woman. By all accounts, Thomas MacGregor had been a tyrannical, arrogant, stubborn, and temperamental man. Maya could never have put up with the guy. But Lady M did. The woman either had the patience of a saint or enough gumption to stand up to the barbarian and tame him. Something told her it was the latter explanation that rang true. A man like Thomas could respect nothing less. She smiled to herself as she studied the remnants of the lady’s painting. “You really ran that hulk through the ringer, didn’t ya, girlfriend?” A second later the telephone rang, bringing Maya out of her contemplative thoughts. “At least we still have electricity,” she mumbled to herself as she reached for the cordless. The storm had taken out the water supply already. “Hello?” “Hey doc, how the hell are ya?” Maya smiled. “Pretty good Pete and yourself?” “No complaints, doc.” “Good.” Pete took his mouth away from the receiver long enough to yell at somebody in the background—obviously a construction worker on his crew that hadn’t done something the way he wanted it done, then returned to the phone. “I was just callin’ to let y’all know that the weather is supposed to pick up in about another hour. We’re calling it a day here. Y’all come over as soon as you can, alright?” Maya grinned. It was just like Pete to still have his crew working right up until the last possible second. That’s how she had met Pete to begin with. His construction company had won the bid on a site that the government wanted built up and within a few hours of drilling Pete and his workers had uncovered some Indian relics—not an uncommon occurrence for construction workers in Florida. Maya’s team had been called to the site and she and Sara had gone to recover the relics despite the dire weather warnings against it. Sara had liked Pete on the spot. Maya had had her reservations, but that was nothing uncommon, as she had reservations about anybody that sported a penis. In the end the weather had worsened, Pete had invited Maya and Sara back to his place to join in on his hurricane party, Maya had reluctantly agreed to go, and the three of them became fast friends by the storm’s end. Pete was now like a big brother to Maya and Sara. Nothing romantic had ever transpired between him and either of the women and nothing romantic ever would. Pete was very happily married and trying to get his wife pregnant. And Maya and Sara had both adored Chanel, Pete’s wife, from the get go. “Sure Pete. We were just finishing up some work here and then we planned to come straight over.” Pete shouted an obscenity that Maya knew was directed at one of his crew rather then her. “Good deal. And y’all don’t forget your costumes, okay?” Maya laughed. “We won’t, sweetcakes.” They hung up a few seconds later, after which Maya rose to her feet and cleaned up her workspace. She shouted at Sara that it was time to start getting ready and headed for her bedroom to don her costume. *****
  • 13. Pete’s Halloween Hurricane Party was the most fun Maya and Sara had had in ages. They couldn’t get over some of the costumes. They ranged from the mundane to the outrageous to the scary. Pete and Chanel, well, they just looked downright sacrilegious. “A priest and a pregnant nun, Pete?” Maya rolled her eyes as she sipped on a bottle of Michelob. Pete threw his head back and laughed while Chanel winked at her. Maya grinned. “You two must have really hated that Catholic high school you met at.” Chanel chuckled. “Thebest thing I can say about it is that I met Pete there.” Maya chatted with the couple for a few minutes more before she decided to seek out Sara. She found her best friend over by the chips and dips table, and it appeared as though she was doing her best to fend off an avid male suitor who was dressed as what she suspected had to be the Viking god Thor. Maya grinned. She couldn’t fault the guy for trying. After all, Dr. Sara Chance looked remarkable tonight. She was sporting a clingy red floor length gown that hugged all of her admirable curves and showed off a respectable amount of cleavage. The sides were split on both sides just past the knees, showing off her well-toned legs. Sara’s velvety black hair was flowing to the middle of her back, with two red horns coming out of the crest of it atop her head. Maya hypothesized that if Thor didn’t remove his eager hands from the she-devil‘s waist relatively soon, he was going to feel the effects of a pitchfork. Knowing Sara, it would hurt like hell. Maya watched Thor grope Sara’s waist for a few seconds longer, then decided it was time to rescue her from his clutches. But just as she was about to bring an end to the Viking god’s pursuit, she felt strong male arms wrap around her waist from behind. “Guess who?” the man whispered into her ear. Maya inwardly groaned. Nick. Her ex-fiancé. She planted a superficial smile onto her lips and swung around to greet the man that had once broken her heart. She had been very much in love with Nick a few years ago, had planned to marry him in fact, but had found out soon after their engagement that hers wasn’t the only bed he had been warming at night. “Hi Nick. How are you?” Nick grinned his most winsome smile. He was a handsome man, there was no denying that fact of life, as much as Maya would have liked to. Nick was a tall, muscular blonde with blue eyes and a killer body. “I’ve been great Maya,” he returned as he let his eyes roam over her body. “And I see that you’ve been doing great as well. Hell, you look better than you did when we were a couple.” Maya smiled. She didn’t think she’d really changed that much for the better, but if he did then that was just as well. “In fact, I’ve been watching you all night long. I was wondering when you were going to come over and tell me hello,” he chided. “I’m sorry,” Maya retorted with the most innocent expression she could muster, “I didn’t know you were here.” Ha! That was a lie if ever she had told one. She had spotted Nick the moment she and Sara had sauntered into Pete’s condo. The truth of the matter was she just couldn’t stand being near him. Especially since he had brought her to the party with him. Mindy. His brainless fluffof a secretary. The woman she had caught him in bed with. Nick smiled his salesman’s smile, though Maya could tell her lie had affected him. Good, she told herself, let him think I’m completely oblivious to his presence. “What a shame, Maya,” he replied smoothly, “because I haven’t been able to think of
  • 14. anything else besides the fact that you’re here.” Nick’s eyes roamed the length of Maya’s body once more. His jaw set as he chastised her on her choice of costume. “Do you really think it’s wise to dress in that Elvira get-up?” Maya blinked at Nick, pretending obliviousness as to why he should care about her costume. “Whatever do you mean?” Ha! She knew exactly what Nick meant and she was grateful to the gods above that she hadn’t had enough time to shop for a new costume. She knew he would have hated this outfit the moment she had first donned it. Maya’s dress was a clingy black number that showed off every curve she possessed to its best advantage. The dress was ankle length but one hundred percent scandalous. The split on the left side started at the ankle and carried all the way up to her hip. The front of the dress fell to her stomach with her ample breasts hoisted up and popping out, just like the real Elvira. Her only regret was that she hadn’t been able to find her black wig. Her long mane of golden curls was cascading down her back, ruining the vampiress effect somewhat—somewhat, but not enough that people didn’t know who she was supposed to be. Truth be told, Maya had never exactly thought herself beautiful. She could pass for pretty perhaps, but then so could most women. What was important was that Nick thought she was—at least for tonight. Just long enough to avenge her sense of ill-justice a tad. Yep, Nick hated the dress all right. He was too possessive not to. Even after all this time. “You know exactly what I mean, Maya,” he ground out. “Just what kind of ideas are you trying to put in the heads of the men around here?” Maya’s feeling of joyous contentment at Nick’s expense quickly faded, giving way to the darker emotions of irritation and anger. “You, Nick Johnson, gave up your right to comment on my Halloween costumes when you screwed Mindy in our bed.” She heaved a deep breath, causing her bosom to pop out even more. She’d been having fun irritating him, but now she was serious. Besides, they’d been broken up far too long for him to react so bizarrely over her choice in costume. “This conversation is over.” She whirled around to make her exit. Nick halted Maya by the shoulders and swung her around to face him. “Mindy never meant a damn thing to me,” he gritted out. “Still doesn’t. I loved you, Maya.” Maya’s jaw dropped open. She stared at him surrealistically. “That was supposed to make me forgive you?” she asked incredulously. “Well it doesn’t! The only thing it makes me feel, in fact, is a deeper sense of loathing for you and a sense of genuine pity for Mindy. How can you be with her all of this time and then state so matter-of-factly that she means nothing to you?” Nick shrugged, seemingly unaffected by Maya’s observation. “She’s just a secretary. What would I look like marrying my secretary? I’m an important man and an important man needs an important, educated wife.” “What you are,” she countered through narrowed eyes, “is a jackass.” Maya spun around on her heel and stomped off towards Sara. She wanted to take a walk or leave or—something, anything to get away from Nick—and supposed she should let Sara know where she was headed. Maya made her way to the chips and dips table, only to become even more irritated when she realized that Sara still hadn’t been able to pry herself loose from the overzealous Viking god. His hands were all over her. Men. What a practical joke God had played on Eve when He’d married her off to Adam. Maya gritted her teeth as she marched over to where her best friend stood. She grabbed the pitchfork from Sara’s hand and shoved it directly into the Viking’s chest. In no mood for premilimaries, she cut straight to the point. “Beat it Thor, or you’re going to discover what it feels like to have this thing shoved up your ass!”
  • 15. Either Thor was a complete and utter wuss or Maya looked angry enough to be taken seriously, but either way she won. The Viking released his paws from Sara’s waist and held up his hands in surrender. “Take it easy, lady. I didn’t mean anything by it.” Maya rolled her eyes. “You men never mean anything by it, do you? You woo a woman until she’s putty in your hands, make her think she’s the most special person on the planet, even ask her to marry you. Anything to bed her! Then you cheat on her, break her heart into a thousand pieces, and make it impossible for her to trust anyone enough to ever love again!” Maya shoved the pitchfork further into Thor’s ribs, causing a small groan to elicit from the throat of her Viking prisoner of words. That’s right, she told herself with a fierce sense of knowing that only a woman scorned can possess, show him you’re on to his game. “I know your type sweetcakes. I’ve dealt with you before. You’re all the same. Tonight you’ll show Sara all the wonders of your bed in Valhalla, but tomorrow night you’ll be taking some other poor unsuspecting woman on the same grand tour!” Thor looked more bewildered than Maya thought it possible for a Viking god to look. “Christ lady, all I was doing was dancing with her.” Maya whipped her head around and eyeballed Sara. “Is this true?” Sara flushed a thousand shades of red before she met Maya’s gaze. “There wasn’t any room in the dancing area, so we danced here,” she mumbled. Maya groaned, her eyes rolling in self-chastisement toward the ceiling. Talk about projecting Nick’s attributes onto another. Freud would have had a field day psychoanalyzing her. Maya withdrew the pitchfork from Thor’s midsection and handed it back to Sara. She braved a quick look around and noticed that people were staring at her, Nick and Mindy included. She sighed. Great, she had just made a laughing stock of herself. And in front of him, no less. Determined to withdraw from the scene with as much dignity as she could muster, Maya straightened her spine to its full height, held up her head, and offered Thor what she suspected was a lousy attempt at an apology. “You were always my favorite god,” she muttered. “Please carry on as you were.” Embarrassed, Maya turned on her heel and regally sauntered off toward the bedroom where her cloak was. She needed to take a walk. Sara watched Maya walk away then turned to Thor with a tentative smile. “I apologize for that scene. She’s usually a very sweet person.” Judging by the look on the Viking’s face, she guessed that Thor didn’t believe that description of Maya for a New York minute. “I’m sorry,” she smiled, “but I really must go to her. She needs me.” A few minutes later, Sara found Maya in Pete and Chanel’s bedroom, sitting on the bed with Fred and Barney. She and Maya had brought the iguanas with them, just in case the storm got really heavy and they wouldn’t be able to return to the apartment for a while. Maya was rubbing their bellies, both of them looking like supremely contented males. “Are you okay?” Maya glanced up at Sara, slightly startled by her presence. She hadn’t heard the bedroom door open. “Nick’s here,” she offered in way of explanation as she returned her gaze to the iguanas. Sara smiled as she plopped herself down onto the bed with a sigh. “Yeah, I know. I saw him.” Maya didn’t say a word for a long while and Sara didn’t push her. She gave her best friend all of the time she needed. After what seemed an eternity, she finally responded. Her voice was barely a whisper. “The only reason he was going to marry me was because I’d make him a
  • 16. suitable wife.” Sara knit her brows together, then reached out to stroke Maya’s back. “A suitable wife, darling?” Maya shrugged and sighed. “He said he wouldn’t marry Mindy because she is only a secretary and a man as important as himself needs an educated wife. What am I supposed to think? Sounds to me that the most I did for the guy was provide him with a respectable enough of an image.” She groaned. “God Sara, I’m twenty-seven years old, twenty-five when we split. One would think I wouldn’t care about his reasons anymore.” Sara rolled her eyes. It was just like Nick to deliberately plant nasty seeds in Maya’s head. If he couldn’t win her back, then he’d do all he could to upset her. “It sounds to me like he told you that on purpose. Think about it, Maya. He knows how much you despise the idea of anyone marrying you for suitability reasons alone because of how awful your parents’ marriage was. “Your dad married your mom for reasons of suitability, which in his day meant she looked good on his arm, then he cheated on her until his dying day. Your mother died of a broken heart. Nick knows that. Nick used that. He just wanted to hurt you because he can’t have you.” Maya pondered Sara’s analysis for a long time before turning around to smile at her. She smiled softly. “Thank God I have you, Sara,” she murmured. “What would I ever do without you?” Sara smiled serenely at Maya as she smoothed a few stray curls away from her best friend’s eyes. “Probables are that you’ll never have to find out.” ***** Something was distressing the herds. Hamish didn’t know what that something was, but he didn’t like the feel of it. He was afraid that if the cattle got too frightened, they would take off running and mayhap wander into the territory of the MacAllister clan in the process. The MacGregor wouldn’t like that. Nay, he wouldn’t like losing nigh unto two score of cattle to his enemies a’tall. Especially when the MacAllister would have grounds to say that claiming the herd was his right, since the cattle had wandered onto their lands of their own doing. Hamish took a quick look around the field, trying to figure out what it was that had put the herds into a panic. He looked as far as the eye could see, yet still he saw nothing. Hamish scratched his head and then his beard, but his puzzlement never lessened. Then he heard it. The sounds. ‘Twas the same eerie sounds that had been spooking the cattle for the past two days. Hamish felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand up as he slowly turned around to see what he already knew in his heart would be there. He wasn’t disappointed. Black clouds swirled around each other until they slowly became joined as one. They took up only a portion of the sky, leaving the rest of it as blue as the sea at high noon. Within the pitch blackness that the union of the clouds had created, the rains began to pour and the thunder boomed out its deep voice. ‘Twas only in the blackness that the heavens opened up and poured. Nowhere else did the rains fall. Hamish swallowed heavily as he watched the black clouds with wide eyes. Should he shout for help? Should he run from the hills with his life? Nay, the MacGregor would never forgive or forget such an act of cowardice. Yet what was a man to do? Somehow he needed to get help. And preferably afore the cattle fled rather than after naught could be done. Hamish watched as the blackness moaned and bands of colors began to dance within it.
  • 17. The colors were majestic—pinks, purples, and golds of every shade imaginable. 'Twas not possible. Storms never created these fine colors. “What in the name of St. Gabriel is that?!” Hamish whirled around to see the bewildered and frightened expression of his clansmen Leonard. Praise the saints—here was someone that could help! “Lenny, I canna say that I know. I ha’ seen it afore yet still am I baffled. Please my friend, go tae the MacGregor. Flee tae him now and tell him tae come. He and Sir Dugald needs see this tae believe! Tell him we’ve need of help, fer the cattle are spooked and liable tae run. There are only so many I can manage alone.” That should have been enough to get the lad running, yet still he stood transfixed, staring into the black clouds. Hamish grew impatient, knowing he didn’t have much time left. “Lenny! Flee, lad! Now!” Lenny came to his senses at last, nodded to Hamish, and took off running toward way of Castle MacGregor. The boy ran faster than even he thought his feet could carry him and didn’t stop until he was in the great hall of the keep. He was winded and breathless by the time he reached the hall, and he must have looked frightened, for Sir Dugald and the MacGregor took one look at the lad and shot to their feet with swords in hand. “Are we under attack?” the laird demanded with a bellow. Lenny shook his head emphatically while he worked on catching his breath. He pointed to the doors of the keep, telling the laird between ragged breaths what was wrong. “My lord, ye must come tae the hills! Hamish told me tae bring ye in posthaste. We need men tae gentle the herds. ‘Tis the blackness I tell ye, it has come upon us again. I would never ha’ believed it did I no’ see it fer my own eyes!” Thomas shouted for his mount to be brought from the stables then questioned Lenny as he and Dugald made their way to the front of the keep with a handful of soldiers in tow. “What did ye see, lad?” Lenny steadied his breath then spoke with wide eyes. “The black clouds, laird! They dwell in only a portion of the heavens and are filled with rains and wind and thunder. Colors like yer eyes ha’ surely never beheld dance within the blackness. ‘Tis an omen I tell ye!” Thomas patted Lenny on the back then took to his mount when a stable lad brought it before him. “Good work in getting tae me so quickly, lad. Ye ha’ honored yer laird this day.” Lenny puffed out his chest with a sense of pride as he watched his lord ride away with more MacGregor men at his heels. The boy crossed himself and prayed to the saints for their protection. ‘Twas an omen. He was certain of it. ***** Maya and Sara walked along the beach with Fred and Barney at their heels. It was a tad chilly outside so they knew they couldn’t stay long. In terms of temperature, they were feeling fine since they had both donned their velvet cloaks before taking a break from Pete’s party. Maya’s cloak was black, to match her Elvira costume, and Sara’s was red, to match her she-devil get-up. It was Fred and Barney they were worried about. Being cold-blooded creatures meant that they weren’t able to maintain their own body heat and were therefore dependent upon the climate to do it for them. The boys could only handle brief spells of chilly weather at a time, so they made sure that they didn’t wander too far from the condo. Maya pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and gathered herself more warmly into her velvet. Sara tried to do the same, but realized she couldn’t because her horns were in the
  • 18. way. Maya took one look at Sara’s befuddled expression and laughed. “Okay sweetcakes, you’ve successfully made me forget about that horrid scene with Thor. I think we better go back inside, if not for our own sakes then at least for Fred and Barney’s.” Sara grinned and agreed. “Yeah we better. Gosh,” she added in amazement when she ventured a thorough look around, “ I hadn’t realized how far we wandered off to.” Maya glanced back in the direction of Pete’s condo then turned around to face Sara again. “You’re right. We better go. I can hear thunder in the distance. The storm is definitely coming,” she sighed. They turned around abruptly and started walking back toward the condo. An inexplicable chill coursed down Sara’s spine. She shivered, huddling herself more securely into her cloak. “Perhaps this wasn’t such a bright idea, Maya. I think we should have gone to Orlando until the storm ended.” Maya looked over her shoulder to the left and noticed the black clouds that were sweeping in from off of the gulf. They were the darkest clouds she’d ever seen. “I think maybe you’re right,” she agreed quietly. Fred and Barney suddenly became agitated, almost as if they could sense some impending doom that Maya and Sara couldn’t. They nipped at their heels, demanding to be picked up. Maya leaned down and scooped Fred into her arms, helping him regain some of his lost body heat. “You’re heavy boy,” she lovingly chided as she enveloped him in her arms beneath the cloak. Sara took note of how Maya was caring for Fred and immediately picked up Barney to do the same. “Sorry fella, I wasn’t thinking.” The women walked a few feet more before one of them finally broke the silence. “It’s really rather beautiful, isn’t it?” Sara remarked in a whisper of awe, almost to herself. “What is beautiful?” Maya asked, unsure as to what she was so bedazzled by. “The storm,” Sara clarified, “if you look at it—I mean really look at it—it’s gorgeous beyond words.” Maya smiled as she and Sara came to a halt. They were providing Fred and Barney with body heat, so what did it matter if they mingled with the approaching storm for a few more minutes. “Yes, it’s very beaut—my God Sara, look at that! Talk about beautiful!” Sara glanced over at Maya then cast her gaze to the area on the beach that had left her friend dumbstruck. She couldn’t believe what she was looking at. “Good lord, Maya. I’ve never seen anything like that!” Maya and Sara gaped openmouthed at a section of the sky that had turned black as sackcloth. There was wind and rain encompassed within the moving phenomenon, but it had yet to fall anywhere else. Within the blackness Maya and Sara saw colors—beautiful, magnificent colors. It was enchanting. It was breathtaking. It was looming right over them. “Uh Sara,” Maya announced as she cleared her parched throat, “I think we better get the hell out of here. We are standing right under this thing but we aren’t getting wet. Doesn’t that strike you as a tad odd?” Sara swallowed roughly then snapped her head around to look at Maya. “Yeah, you’re right. In fact, it’s more than odd I’d say. Let’s get back to Pete’s like right now!” Maya never had to be told anything that might save her life twice. She nodded to Sara then dashed from under the blackness with her. Or tried to dash from under it was more to the point. The moment the women trotted further than a step out of the black enclosure, the swirls of
  • 19. colors grabbed at their bodies and roped them back inside. Sara screamed. Maya lashed out at them, trying with everything in her to force the colors to release her. They were soon lost in the colors, unable to see anything around them. There was color and there was blackness. There was nothing else. Pete’s condo wasn’t visible. The beach wasn’t visible. The storm inside of the blackness wasn’t even visible. Maya had a horrid thought that she and Sara had been picked up into the eye of the hurricane and would soon spontaneously combust. There was no other explanation. They were going to die. Maya grabbed Sara’s hand and held on for dear life. If they were going to die, they would die together, she thought dramtically. Just like Thelma and Louise. Just like Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Just like two idiots who should have driven to Orlando to spend the damn night away from the storm, she thought dismally. Maya screamed as she felt her and Sara floating upwards, further towards the eye no doubt. Fred and Barney came loose from their cloaks and tumbled out from their protection. But the colors wouldn’t let them go either. The colors grabbed at the iguanas, refusing to let them fall. The women closed their eyes and screamed. There was nowhere to run and no way to loose themselves from the hold of the color bands. Of all the ways to die, neither of them had thought they would be going out like this. And then they began to float downwards. Fast, yet with a surrealistic ease at the same time. Sara tightened her grip on Maya’s hand until Maya suspected that the bones would shatter beneath her hold. Not that it mattered. The eye would turn her into a human soufflé anyway. Let Sara grip her hand to her heart’s content. And then they were on the ground with Fred and Barney at their heels. The tendrils of color encompassed Maya and Sara for a few moments more, then released the hold on their bodies and receded upward towards the heavens. Maya gasped. The blackness was gone. She released Sara’s hand as she gaped towards the sky, dumbfounded as to what had just taken place. “Uh Maya,” Sara whispered in an urgent tone as she nudged her in the ribs, “I think you better swing around and have a look.” Maya nodded and began turning slowly, afraid without knowing why to swerve around and look at anything. What was behind them that had unflappable Sara so upset? A demon no doubt with the way their luck was running today, she thought grimly. Maya grimaced when at last she turned around and opened her eyes. A demon—ha! They should have been so lucky. There was no demon. But there were men on horseback. A lot of them. And they had swords. Raised swords. Raised swords and angry faces. Oh shit. Why hadn’t they gone to Orlando? Chapter 3 Ten men on horseback stared wide-eyed and open mouthed at Maya and Sara. There was another red-haired man who stood directly in front of them, staring at the two women in terror, as if afraid that Maya and Sara might reach out and gobble him up for dinner. The man wore an odd outfit, what an ancient Scot might have called a plaid. His hair was
  • 20. dirty, long, and mangled, with a plaited braid on either side of his face. And he had the worst breath Maya had ever smelled in her life. This man would never have to worry about being gobbled up by her for dinner, that was for sure. Sara was so stunned she couldn’t breathe, let alone help figure out what in the world was going on, so Maya decided to take matters into her own hands. But first she needed to get Billy Bad Breath to back up a step. She was going to faint for sure if he didn’t quit breathing on her. Maya raised her hand in a motion indicating that she was about to speak. The man with the fetid breath took one wide-eyed look at her raised hand, gasped a big breath that damn near knocked her to her knees with its odor, and fainted dead away. Apparently Billy Bad Breath was horrified at the thought of her speaking to him, Maya frowned. Ha! Like he was one to criticize. The man had obviously never heard of Listerine. “By the saints, my lord, she has cast her spell on Hamish! He has fallen tae the ground as one dead!” Maya turned her attention to the rider that had spoken. There was something odd about his burred speech. It was almost as if it was another language. It was almost as if it was—Old Gaelic? The ten riders crossed themselves. The biggest of the lot, the one who was obviously in charge, raised his sword and pointed it toward Maya and Sara. He looked damn angry. Maya had never seen a more intimidating character in her life. “Speak demon wenches. From what pit of hell ha’ ye been loosed from?” Maya looked at Sara with a truly baffled expression on her face. Demon wenches? Pit of hell? It was at that moment that logical Sara finally rejoined the living. She nudged Maya in the side and indicated that she should look to an area of terrain beyond the riders. Maya obeyed, then gasped. “Where are we, Sara?” she whispered. Sara swallowed harshly, trying to get her salivary glands to work again. “I don’t know,” she squeaked, “but I don’t recall us having any castles in Florida.” Maya looked beyond the fierce looking man with the pointed sword to the ominous structure that loomed in the background behind him. It was formidable. And awesome. And terrifyingly familiar. It looked just like the pictures of Castle MacGregor. ***** “How in the name of God is this possible?” Maya muttered under her breath so that only Sara could hear. Sara shook her head, her gaze never faltering from the fierce looking man that was pointing his sword straight at them. “I don’t know, Maya, but we are here. There’s no denying it. We both studied the photographs of that castle for quite a while. We both know what we’re looking at. And just look at them..” Them Maya took to mean the riders on horseback. They definitely didn’t have the look of a modern day Scot. And the castle—the castle had been reduced to mere ruins two centuries ago. Yet now it stood tall and wonderful in all its glory, just like it had in the far away past. Maya grimaced, then threw her hand dramatically toward her forehead in confusion and upset. The riders seemed to react to her every movement for they backed their mounts up a space at the sight of her slightly raised hand. “She will surely turn us all tae stone, my lord!” the rider with the tongue Maya was coming to find annoying bellowed. “The demon wench will kill us all this verra day!” Maya rolled her eyes, her worry momentarily forgotten. She raised her voice loud enough
  • 21. for all and sundry to hear her. “I am no demon, boys. I’m just a woman. No more, no less.” The riders looked at her curiously then screamed in terror when her pet iguana Fred hobbled out from behind her feet. Even the big guy let out a small yelp. “She brings with her dragons from the pit of hell, my lord! We must flee! We canna fight them!” Maya smiled in satisfaction. She and Sara were obviously delusional, so they might as well have the upper hand in this medieval acid trip. Let the men think what they would. But please God, she silently prayed, make them go away… Maya bent down and patted Fred on the head. “Good boy,” she praised as he let loose his lizard’s tongue to lick her arm. The big guy pointed his sword at Maya and bellowed out a question. “What tongue do ye speak demon wench?” “She speaks the devil’s own tongue, my lord! She will kill us all! Let us flee that we may see another day!” Maya wanted to belt the rider with his voice of gloom and doom a good one. He was going to get them killed if he didn’t put a sock in it. She was tired of this delusion. She and Sara had obviously lost their minds when they were inside the eye of the storm. “She speaks English,” Sara offered in Gaelic, coming out of her stupor. The big guy looked down at Sara and fumed. “I know English, wench, and English that ‘twas not.” Sara placated the warrior with a smile before she continued. “It is a different form of English she speaks. We come from a clan called, uh, Tampa, in a land called America. It is not the same as England.” “Mayhap afore ye joined the demons in hell ye did, but now ‘tis plain tae the eye that ye are cursed.” The big guy spat on the ground and crossed himself. “I am not cursed,” Sara countered, “and I am not a demon.” The man sitting next to the big guy spoke up, directing his speech toward Sara. “Ye lie wench. We can see the horns atop yer head.” Oh damn, Maya and Sara thought as they simultaneously paled. They had forgotten that they were in costume. “My good sir,” Sara began, causing Maya to lift an eyebrow, “I assure you I am no demon. These horns are not real. They are a costume. Do you know what a costume is?” Maya jabbed Sara in the ribs, causing her to wince. “Are you insane, Sara?” she whispered harshly. “If this is real, then the fact that they fear us is what’s keeping us alive at the moment.” Sara shot a scolding look Maya’s way before replying. “Not if they believe we are demons it won’t. We’ll be burned at the stake for heresy in a heartbeat.” Maya winced. Damn, she hadn’t thought of that. ***** “Costume? What is costume, wench?” The big guy spat on the ground again and crossed himself—again. Maya was beginning to find that nasty little habit irritating. Sara, unflappable even at the prospect of death, smiled reassuringly up to the giant. “A costume is clothing you wear when you are pretending to be something you are not. Perhaps you do not have such customs here?” The giant muttered something under his breath then spit and crossed himself again. “Nay, we dinna.”
  • 22. Sara reached up to the two horns on top of her head, unpinned them from her hair, and threw them at the big guy. “You see…they are not real.” Thomas caught them and examined the fake horns carefully then showed them to Sir Dugald. “They are made of fine silk,” he muttered to his commander-at-arms. Sir Dugald took the horns from his laird’s hands and brushed them against his cheek. “Aye milord, they are silk.” The big guy looked back at Maya and Sara, his voice and expression as unrelenting as ever. “If ye are no’ demons, then how do ye explain these creatures of protection? Surely ye will no’ try tae tell me that they are no’ real.” Sara laughed good-naturedly as she reached down to pet Barney. It was obvious to Maya that her best friend was doing a far better job of disarming the riders of their hostility than she could have done. Left to Maya’s devices and callous tongue, the two of them would have been roasting over an open spit with apples in their mouths by now. “He is not a protector, but merely a pet, my lord. Judging from the looks upon your faces I suppose that you do not have pets like this here either?” Sir Dugald smiled. “Nay my lady, we dinna.” Sara glanced up at Sir Dugald and blushed. “They are harmless creatures, sir. Truly. If you would but dismount, I would be happy to introduce you.” The rider’s smile widened to the point that Maya suspected the skin around the corners of his mouth might crack. He wanted Sara, that much was obvious. “How did ye tae ladies come tae be here?” the big guy asked from his mount while the other man got off of his horse and strode over to inspect Fred and Barney. Sara shrugged. “Verily my lord…” Maya’s eyebrow rose. Verily? “…we are as baffled as you are. One minute we were in the middle of a clan celebration and the next minute the sky grew black and we were here.” Maya snorted. Clan celebration indeed. If the big guy thought their costumes were in league with the devil, she wondered what he’d think about Pete the priest and Chanel the pregnant nun. Sir Dugald came to stand in front of Sara, smiling down at her all the while. He wasn’t too hard on the eyes, Maya admitted. Not too hard at all. Sara could do a lot worse. The man grabbed Sara’s hand first and then Maya’s. “I am called Sir Dugald, my ladies, and who might ye be?” Sara sucked in her breath. Her face turned a chalky white. Sir Dugald. Maya’s heartbeat quickened as she swallowed nervously. Sir Dugald frowned. “What is the matter?” Sara regained her composure quickly and curtsied to the soldier. “Forgive me Sir Dugald for my rudeness. You startled us is all. My name is Lady Sara. This is Lady Maya.” Sir Dugald inclined his head to both of them, his smile back in place. “Ye are forgiven, naturally, but why were ye startled in the first?” Sara looked to Maya as if searching for an appropriate response. Maya answered for her, though this time in Gaelic, determined to find her voice once again. “We have heard of your laird and of you as well, sir. Your clan’s strength is well known.” Sir Dugald’s chest puffed out arrogantly. Apparently Maya had even managed to stir the arrogance of the big guy himself, for he dismounted at Maya’s words and came striding over. The giant stopped in front of Maya and looked her up and down. He’d apparently never heard of the word subtle, she thought grimly. Maya was grateful to the gods above that her
  • 23. cloak was concealing her outfit, for he surely would have demoted her from the status of lady to the status of harlot had he seen how scandalously she was attired. “I am the MacGregor. How did ye come tae hear of me?” Maya’s eyes grew wide when his words sunk in. The MacGregor? As in Thomas MacGregor? Wow! He was even bigger and fiercer looking than she had imagined him to be. And like Sir Dugald, not hard on the eyes either. In fact, he was even more ruggedly handsome than Sir Dugald was to her way of thinking. She quickly curtsied as she offered him a smile. “Your skills with your sword are well known in many lands, my lord.” Satisfied, Thomas nodded with a grunt. Of course his skills were well known. He was the MacGregor after all. He took Maya’s hand and bowed over it, astonishing her with his courtly show of grace. “Lady Maya, ye must call me Thomas. ‘Tis an honor tae make yer acquaintance.” Maya shivered then nodded, her gaze never leaving the laird’s. Thomas took note of Maya’s shiver and frowned, assuming it was because of the chilly weather instead of because of the fact she was freaked out. “’Tis tae cold fer ye and Lady Sara tae be walking aboot. And tae dangerous as well. Ye are lucky ‘twas I who found ye and no’ the MacAllister. Come, we will take ye tae Castle MacGregor tae warm yerselves.” ***** Robert MacAllister smiled wickedly towards the women riding off into the distance atop the MacGregor and Sir Dugald’s mounts. He had come to MacGregor land ‘apurpose this day, in the hopes of finding some cattle he could lift for the use of his own clan. He had ridden up mayhap a few moments after the MacGregor arrived only to see him pointing his raised sword in the direction of the two wenches. Robert had watched from the trees, trying his best to get a good look at the lasses, then damn near fell from his mount when at last he did. He never saw what the wench in red looked like, but the wench in black was beautiful indeed. She was the comeliest of maidens, with long golden hair and a figure that made a man want to bury his flesh deep inside of her. It had been obvious to Robert that the woman wasn’t a MacGregor, for Thomas had reacted to her as though he’d never seen her before. Robert had thought to take her for himself, believing that the MacGregor would leave the women behind after he and his men tried them. Why he had thought that, he had no idea. ‘Twas wishful thinking on his part, no doubt. Robert cursed in anger as he left the seclusion of the trees and rode back to the MacAllister keep, all thoughts of cattle lifting long since departed. ‘Twasn’t fair. The MacGregors always bested the MacAllisters. The MacGregor laird was the most feared in Scotland, their clan’s herds were aplenty, and their women innumerable. And now Thomas MacGregor had claimed the foreign wenches for his own. Nay, ‘twasn’t fair in the least. But Robert was going to change his clan’s run of bad luck for the better. He was laird now, after all, with his elder brother dead and buried for nigh a fortnight. He wasn’t weak like his brother had been, unwilling to stand up to the MacGregor as he should have done years past. Nay, Robert was strong, and damn if he wouldn’t prove it. Soon ‘twould be him that the Bruce would seek out for the wisdom of his guidance. Soon ‘twould be him that found favor in the king’s court. And, Robert added to himself with a grin, soon ‘twould be him that was rutting between the bitch’s legs every eve. He would take her from the MacGregor. By the saints he would.
  • 24. Chapter 4 Somehow or another “Lady” Maya and “Lady” Sara ended up at the castle with Fred and Barney in tow. It was evident that both Thomas and Dugald would have preferred to have left the iguanas behind, but the women wouldn’t hear of it. Sara convinced Sir Dugald to let Barney ride with them in the way she knew best to work a situation to her advantage—she bedazzled him with compliments and plied him with smiles. Maya, on the other hand, got Thomas to take Fred in the only way she had ever known how to go about getting her own way—she dug in her heels and refused to budge from her stance. Thomas had spat and cursed—in a legion of different languages at that—then finally relented when he realized that Maya was obstinate enough to do as she had said she would do and remain on the hillside if he left her pet behind. Thomas had thrown her his best scowls, yelled at her at the top of his lungs, even threatened to put her over his knee. It had all been for naught. The stubborn woman had refused obedience. ‘Twas sorely obvious to Thomas that the laird of the Tampa clan had spoiled the wench to no end. The MacGregor was still in a surly mood when he plopped himself down into his seat in the great hall next to Maya to partake of the evening fare. He grunted as he sat, making certain that Lady Maya was well aware of his presence. By the saints she could get under a man’s skin! When grunting didn’t gain Lady Maya’s attention away from the conversation between Sir Dugald and Lady Sara, Thomas cleared his throat and bellowed to her. “Ye will look at me, Lady Maya.” That did it. Maya gritted her teeth in irritation. The man possessed the manners of a wild pig. First he accused her of being Satan’s sister, then he tried to leave her beloved Fred behind to fend for himself in the cold, then he had even gone so far as to yell at her and threaten her with a spanking. Now he had the audacity to command her to look at him! Were it not for the fact that he obviously had the upper hand at the moment, she would have strangled him. Maya turned around and eyeballed the laird with a scowl on her face that was fierce enough to cause a lesser man to wince. “Yes? Laird?” Now that Maya was looking at him, Thomas wasn’t certain what his next move should be. He didn’t really have anything to say to her and he had never been good at idle conversation. The only thing he knew was that he liked looking at Maya and he liked it when she was looking at him. Damnation, but what man wouldn’t want the comely wench to favor him with her attention. She was finer than he thought it possible for a woman to be made. Her waist length hair was unbound and the shade of golden curls of wheat. Her eyes were three different colors all at the same time—rings of blue and green with a fleck of gold in each. Her lips, well, he shouldn’t even think of her puffy red lips. A man could torture himself over the desire to suck on those lips. Thomas frowned as he studied Maya and Maya frowned right back. “You wanted to speak with me, my lord?” Thomas snapped his attention from his fantasies and threw Maya his most feared scowl. “The servants are preparing ye and Lady Sara’s chambers the soonest. Sometime after the meal, Matilde shall see ye tae yer chambers. Baths will be brought up tae ye and clean gowns
  • 25. as well, since I take it neither of ye has yer chests.” Maya’s expression softened at Thomas’s rather considerate gesture. She smiled at him, causing his breath to catch in the back of his throat. “That is thoughtful of you, my lord. We would be most grateful.” Thomas nodded then raised one of the corners of his mouth slightly upward. Maya deeply suspected that was his attempt at a smile. Apparently he hadn’t quite cultivated the art of it yet because it looked like no more than a sneer to her. Still, she refused to think about what that awkward smile did to the rate of her heart. ***** Maya stood atop the battlements, gazing down into the lower bailey. She shook her head to clear it, not believing for a moment that she was seeing the things she was seeing, experiencing the things she appeared to be experiencing. She was certain that she was going to wake up at any given moment, still in her bed in Tampa. Or perhaps she had sustained a head injury during the hurricane and was even now lying in a coma at Tampa General Hospital. She was a woman of science—there were no other explanations. Maya pulled her cloak tightly around her, the chilly mountain air inducing her flesh to goose pimple. Odd, but she’d never felt temperature sensations in a dream before. Perhaps when she woke up she’d drive over to the lab at the university and let that eccentric Ph.D. who studies abnormal sleep patterns hook her up to one of his machines and have a field day at her wearily bedraggled expense. She needed to find Sara and force her to wake them up. In this dream, and Maya resolutely refused to believe that it could be more than that, Sara had strolled off with this Sir Dugald character hand-in-hand after the meal in the great hall. Maya grunted. Yes, she had to be dreaming. Sara simply wasn’t the type to fall into an infatuation after knowing a guy for all of two hours. The wind blew the hood of Maya’s cloak from around her face, spilling her long mane of golden curls down her back. She realized not even a moment later that the goose bumps she had succumbed to weren’t entirely due to the evening’s chilled air. She wasn’t alone on the battlements any longer. She wasn’t certain how she knew as much, but perhaps one develops extra-sensory perceptions when dreaming…or hallucinating. “Yer chamber is ready fer ye, Lady Maya.” Ah, she was right. No longer alone. Maya cocked her head upward to enable her better viewing access to the giant warlord’s face. “Thank-you,” she offered weakly. Thomas nodded almost imperceptibly, acknowledging her words. “Ye are welcome.” She turned back to face the lower bailey once more, unable to hold the gaze of the MacGregor a moment longer. Looking at him made this entire experience too vivid, too real. “Are ye no’ going up tae yer chamber, milady?” Maya closed her eyes against his words. His voice was so deep and smooth, the richest of bass tones. He sounded all male, all-powerful, and far from imaginary. She snuggled into her cloak, folding her arms across her chest and rubbing them briskly to ward off the eerie cold. After what seemed an eternity spent in silence with this man in her dream, Maya could endure the quiet no longer. She whirled around and pierced him with haunted, rounded eyes. “Are you real?” she whispered up to him. Thomas arched a brow. “Real? Of course I am real.” He reached out to touch her forehead, an uncharacteristic feeling of sympathy welling up inside of him. “Did ye sustain a hit tae the head, lass? Are ye fevered?” He felt her head for warmth, caressing her temples in the process.
  • 26. “I can call a healer if ye ha’ need of one.” Maya closed her eyes against the feel of his hand stroking her head. His fingers were large and roughly callused, yet felt uncommonly good brushing against her smooth temple. This was too much to take in, too much to believe. Things like this simply don’t happen. Thomas had the disconcerting thought that he could stand here a happy man, stroking this woman for the rest of his life and never tire of it. Her face turned to his hand like a frightened child seeking protection, which was a complete contrast to her typical confident behavior. It was all he could do not to reach out and give her that which she was needing. Mayhap the lady didn’t realize what it was she sought, but he did. She needed comfort. From what threat, he hadn’t any notion. Thomas slowly lowered his hand from Maya’s temple to her cheek, rubbing it gently to soothe her. Again, she turned to him as if seeking something that she herself could not name. She kept her eyes closed, merely feeling the sensations without seeing. A sense of possessiveness and a fierce desire to protect the tiny lass swept through his very core, battling his resolve. He pulled her toward him, giving up the fight, holding her gently in a warm embrace. Maya shut her eyes tightly as she allowed the warrior to hold her. She experienced an abstruse sense of security in his arms, as if he were her only connection to reality, to life. Odd that a figure from one’s dream could provide such base comfort. She wanted to cry, wanted to bawl her eyes out, but refused to do so. The longer he held her, the more real the warrior became. And the more frightened she became. Thomas laid his chin atop her head and breathed in her scent. She felt so perfect, her soft flesh cuddled into the warmth of his hard, steely body. He felt his shaft swell against his plaid, poking against her belly. At her sharp intake of breath, he realized she knew the effect that she had on him. Would she use it against him as other women would try to? He refused to give her the chance to find out. Thomas pushed Maya away from him, causing her to dart her face upward to stare at him. She swallowed roughly, her eyes still haunted, still shadowed. He felt a momentary tremor of guilt, but refused to acknowledge it. The MacGregor would not yield his heart, his will, or even his shaft to this comely vixen. “Ye will take yerself up tae yon chamber tae bathe and ye will do it now.” Maya blinked. She had no idea what had turned him surly, but the abrupt shift in mood was a shock to her system. That did it. Maya pushed herself further away from the snake’s hold, her once worried eyes now burning. She couldn’t and wouldn’t deny the attraction she held for him, but she refused to cower before Laird Pompous Ass. “Fine!” she spat. “Fine!” he growled in return. “Ye will go now afore I change my mind and ravish yer willin’ body. I will decide if ye are tae go back home or no’ when ye are gone from my sight!” “Willing body? Decide where I’ll go?” Maya stared daggers at the savage gargantuan, hoping for an insane moment that she truly was here and not dreaming so she could scratch his eyes out. “Listen buddy, I am the only one who will decide where it is I go! And I am going home. Right now!” She turned on her heel, giving him her back. He, however, was having none of that. Thomas grabbed her by the back of the cloak and spun her around to face him. His nostrils flared, the vein at his temple ticked. “Ye will do as ye are bid,” he said too quietly. “Ye will go above stairs tae yer chamber and say no’ another word aboot it. Do ye ken, or do ye need tae be put o’er my knee?”
  • 27. His knee? His knee? Damn the man! Too enraged to think up any response at all, let alone a witty, smart-ass one, Maya stomped her foot on the ground and glared at him. “Fine!” she managed to sputter out. Unable to suppress her rage, she stood up on tiptoe, grabbed the black braids that were plaited at either of his temples, and yanked with all of her might. He smiled at her. A genuine, amused smile. She wanted to kill him. “Ohhhh!” she fumed, unable to say more. She turned around and stomped off of the battlements, like a spoiled child being sent to her room. Thomas watched in amusement as the little shrew pounded away from him in a tantrum. He should be mad, but he wasn’t. He was too well humored. Mayhap he would keep her after all. He shook his head, determined to locate his missing resolve. What the comely harridan did to his senses was not a good thing. She could weaken him, make him soft, make his heart feel things he didn’t want it to feel. Nay, he could not and would not keep the little wench. ***** Thomas sat in his chair next to the hearth in the great hall with ale in his hand and a scowl on his face. He swallowed down the rest of the drink then bellowed at Matilde to bring him some more. When Matilde didn’t instantly materialize, he cursed and yelled for his squire to see to him. He had forgotten for a moment that Matilde was upstairs showing Lady Maya and Lady Sara to their bedchambers. Thomas grunted after his squire Gilfred refilled his tankard, then went back to his seething. ‘Twas apparent to the MacGregor men that Thomas was in a dastardly mood, for no one dared to approach him. Even Dugald remained conspicuously absent, mayhap out of fear, but most likely ‘twas out of a desire to let Thomas calm down upon his own accord. As if he could calm down, Thomas acknowledged to himself with another grunt. Lady Maya was going to be the death of him! After thinking on the scene atop the battlements, he decided that her show of temper was far from amusing. The woman simply didn’t know her place. She obviously had no fear of him and this truth the laird found unacceptable. Indeed, a wench should know humble respect and fear for her lord. Of course, Thomas wasn’t exactly her lord—yet. Yet? Nay. Thomas shook his head. He refused to think along those lines. He would send the ladies back to their clan in posthaste. Certainly their sires had to be fearing for their safety by now. Still, he couldn’t help but to consider what would become of his life were he to refuse Lady Maya’s passage back to her people. He scowled. His life would be one complication after the next is what would happen. Lady Maya was hardly the agreeable sort and, more like than naught, her tongue would end up embarrassing him in front of his men were he to keep her. And Lady Maya was bound to put up a fight if he ordered her to stay here. She wasn’t the type of woman that was going to sit idly by while the MacGregor decided her fate for her. Nay, she would demand that her and her lady friend be sent back wence they came. “Mayhap ‘tis safe tae speak with ye now, or do ye wish tae frown at your ale a bit more?” Thomas looked up to see a smiling Dugald and glared at him. “Me thinks ye should wait a while more, Dugald.” Dugald clucked his tongue and shook his head, feigning exasperation. In reality, he found the situation too amusing to be sure. “Come now Thomas, ye know ye can speak yer mind
  • 28. freely tae me.” Thomas glowered at Dugald as he took another swallow of ale. “Mayhap ye find this amusing Dugald, but I assure ye that I dinna.” Dugald laughed as he swatted Thomas on the back then helped himself to the seat nearest the laird. “It can’t be all that bad, my lord. Tell me now what troubles ye.” If only he himself knew, Thomas sighed. He wanted to believe that he was angry at Lady Maya because of her stubborn and shrewish tendencies, yet he knew he wasn’t angry about that in the slightest. Irritated, aye, but angry, nay. ‘Twas true that if he kept the lady he would have to be diligent in instructing her of her proper place, but her behavior was nothing irreversibly damaging. The real problem was Lady Maya herself. She was simply too beautiful for Thomas’s peace of mind. Nothing good ever came from keeping a beautiful woman, for men aplenty would seek to take her to their beds. Just like his mum. Aye, the former Laird MacGregor knew all too well the heartbreak that came from claiming a comely wife. Thomas’s mother Elizabeth had been considered the loveliest maiden in the land in her day. For many a year that Thomas could remember, his father Angus had doted on his mother, seeing to her every whim. But apparently Elizabeth had never returned Angus’s love, for she certainly hadn’t returned his fidelity. Angus never found out precisely how many lovers his wife had taken to her bed, as he knew of only one in particular. But if there was one, there had to have been others, he had decided after Elizabeth’s death. Thomas was like as not ever going to forget the manner in which Angus had found out that his beloved wife had betrayed him. Angus had ridden back into the keep following a successful raid on the Hamilton clan only to find that his wife had taken her life in their bedchamber. Beside himself with grief, Angus had questioned the servants at length and eventually found out what had caused his fair Elizabeth to die by her own hand. ‘Twas a young squire that had been sent from a neighboring clan to train under Angus who had learned of Elizabeth’s sins. He had watched her cavort with a man he didn’t recognize down in the lower bailey. Following their sordid tryst against the castle wall, the squire had overheard the unknown man jilt Elizabeth, ending their affair that day. According to the lad, Elizabeth had begged the man to take her with him and when he refused to do so, she fled to her chamber in tears. Angus had forced the squire from his keep that day for not having brought an end to his wife’s immoral behavior the moment he saw what she had been about. Not that it had done any good to hoist the lad from the castle for his wife had already betrayed him and was dead. Thomas’s father was never the same after Elizabeth’s death. He would take a wench to bed when his need became o’er much, but he never gave his heart to another. Elizabeth’s sins had destroyed Angus and Angus’s hate had formed the way Thomas viewed the world, especially women. Thomas was cold and cynical where wenches were concerned, just as his sire before him had taught him to be. There were many issues over the years that had brought father and son to conflict before Angus’ death, but there was one matter on which the two had always agreed. Nothing good ever came of taking a comely woman to wife. “Well,” Dugald asked, bringing Thomas’s attention back to his commander-in-arms, “will ye speak of it?” Thomas stared into the hearth without blinking, his gaze never leaving it. “’Tis Lady Maya, my friend.”
  • 29. Dugald nodded and sighed, having figured as much. “What aboot her, Thomas?” The laird cast his stony stare to Dugald. “She is beautiful. She is tae beautiful. Need I say more?” Chapter 5 The women followed behind Matilde in a daze. Neither of them had fully accepted the fact that what they were experiencing was indeed reality. It still felt like a dream, but most especially to Maya. Or an incredibly detailed, highly vivid hallucination. Medieval Scotland? Good God, how could it be? Matilde stopped first at Sara’s room to show her where she would be sleeping. Sara thanked the servant profusely then asked Matilde if she would mind if she trailed behind them to Maya’s room. Sara explained to her that she and Lady Maya had a few things to discuss in private before they bathed. “Of courrz I do no’ mind,” she insisted in a thick French accent, “’ti zan honor to do your bidding, my ladieez.” Maya took a resigned look around when she was escorted into her room, or what Matilde had called her “bedchamber”. The room was large enough to suit her needs, almost three times the size of her bedroom in Tampa. The bed was spacious, huge in fact, and covered with pelts of animal fur. Tapestries hung on the walls, giving the chamber a homey feel, and vases and chests helped add to that effect. The only thing Maya disliked about her new temporary home was the chillingly cold stone floor. But the crackling fire kindling in the hearth managed to lessen even that minor discomfort. Maya sighed. The place wasn’t exactly Trump Tower, but then neither was her and Sara’s modest apartment in Tampa. As bedchambers went, this one wasn’t half bad. Maya thanked Matilde for showing her to her room, then politely asked her to leave so Sara and she could talk. Matilde nodded and curtsied, shutting the door behind her as she made a quiet exit. As soon as the servant departed, reality began to sink in. Maya grabbed Sara by the arm and pulled her further into the bedroom to be assured that their conversation wouldn’t be overheard. She plopped down beside her onto the bed. “Okay,” she demanded in hushed tones, “what in the hell is going on? Did we die do you suppose?” Sara shook her head and looked into Maya’s eyes. “Somehow I doubt that. I feel very much alive, don’t you?” Maya groaned and threw herself back onto one of the animal pelts laying on the bed. She breathed heavily for a few moments then looked over to Sara. “If we’re not dead, then the only other possibility is that we have…” She shook her head. “It isn’t possible,” she muttered under her breath. “Apparently it is,” Sara countered. “We’re here, Maya. You can’t deny that.” Maya bolted upright in bed and grabbed Sara’s hand. “Are you saying that we…that we…I mean to say, have we…” Maya groaned. She just couldn’t bring herself to state the obvious. “Traveled through time?” Sara offered. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, Maya. I’m saying we traveled back into the past almost seven hundred years.” Maya buried her face in her hands and shook her head. “This is a nightmare is what it is. How do we get back?”
  • 30. Sara breathed in a deep breath then stroked Maya on the back. “I don’t know. And I’m not sure that we can, darling.” Maya snapped her head around to look at Sara and accused her through narrowed eyes. “You’re not sure that we can or you’re not sure that you want to?” Maya wasn’t blind after all. She had noticed the way that Sara and Dugald had hit it off from the beginning. Dugald was nothing at all like Thomas. He was easy going, gentle-natured, and quite gabby for a fourteenth century ruffian. Thomas, on the other hand, was intense, forceful, domineering, and hardly ever spoke even when spoken to. Sara and Sir Dugald had spent the entire evening talking, laughing, and blushing at each other. It was enough to make Maya want to stick her finger down her throat and hurl. Especially when all Thomas did was grunt at her, or threaten to ravish and spank her, she thought morosely. Sara’s expression hardened as she responded to Maya’s accusation. “I do like him, if that’s what you’re asking. But I barely know him. At least not enough yet to stay here if I was given the chance to go home. Believe me Maya, I would be on the first hurricane out of here if it was possible.” Maya sighed and squeezed Sara’s hand. She shouldn’t have jumped all over her best friend like that. She was being put through the same trauma after all. Sara smiled and patted Maya on the knee. “You know darling, it wouldn’t kill you to be nicer to Thomas. In fact, I would suggest it.” Maya’s eyes widened as she studied Sara’s face. “The man is a pompous idiot. Why would I want to be nice to him?” “Because,” Sara began quite matter-of-factly, “he’s the Alpha Male around here.” Maya rolled her eyes, causing Sara to chuckle. “So?” she asked. “So,” Sara explained, “this is the fourteenth century. You’re an anthropologist Maya. Use your brain. Without Thomas’s protection, probables are you’ll be raped by someone here.” Maya swallowed heavily as her eyes rounded into the shape of saucers. Sara was right. Rape was a very real possibility in this world. “My God Sara, I don’t even want to think about that.” Sara sighed, then forced a grin, attempting to make the moment a lighter one. “Have you taken a hard look at the women around here? In comparison, what fourteenth century Highlander wouldn’t want us?” Maya forced a laugh, but she knew what Sara had said was true. They were young, well groomed, they didn’t smell, and they possessed all of their teeth. Matilde was the best looking female around the keep and even she had enough hair on her upper lip to make Tom Selleck envious. There was no doubt about it: without Thomas’s protection, being in the company of these barbarians would be like dangling two hunks of ripe cheese in front of a den of ravenous mice. Geez, this was just getting worse and worse as every minute ticked by. “All right,” Maya conceded through set teeth, “I will make an effort to be more hospitable to Conan the Barbarian.” Sara chuckled as she reached over and patted Maya on top of the head. “Good girl.” ***** A bath was brought up for Maya within a few minutes of Sara’s departure from her room. She sighed as she forced herself to leave the bed and climb to her feet. All she really wanted to do was lay down in the warm blankets with Fred and cry her eyes out. She had never been truly afraid of anything in her life, but at the moment, she was down right terrified.
  • 31. What if she and Sara were stuck here? Or worse yet, what if they found a way home in another month or so, only by then Sara was head-over-heels in love with Dugald and refused to leave? Realistically that scenario seemed unlikely, yet the whole situation worried her to no end. Maya glowered at the tub that had been brought in for her use, ran her fingers through her hair in frustration, then resigned herself into accepting the situation with a sigh. If she waited much longer, the water would be cold. Might as well go for it now. She unzipped her cloak and took it off slowly, making certain that she didn’t tear it with her spiked heels. Apparently Thomas hadn’t noticed her odd shoes, she mused, or he no doubt would have had questions about them as well. As it was, he already demanded that she speak with him “on the morrow” so she could tell him all she knew of how she got here. Like she herself knew. She wished she did. Maya folded her cloak with care and set it on the chest at the end of her bed. She reached around her back to undo the Elvira gown, but found that the zipper had caught on a piece of bunched up material and wouldn’t budge. “That’s just great,” she muttered to herself, “now what do I do?” Just when she thought her luck was already at an all-time low, it took a serious nosedive for the worse. The door crashed opened at that very moment and Maya knew in a heartbeat that the voice bellowing to her from the threshold belonged to no other than the laird himself. “Lady Maya, I would speak with ye afore ye bathe. I…” Maya gulped as she watched Thomas watch her. His gaze never once betrayed his thoughts. That was just as well to her mindset for truth be told, she was afraid to know what he was thinking. The Elvira dress was scandalous even by twenty-first century standards. Maya imagined that she looked like the queen of all harlots to the reckoning of a fourteenth century male. The slit on the left side of her dress went all the way up to her hip and the middle of her gown fell to the valley below her breastbone, showcasing all of her bosom save her nipples. Well, Maya told herself with a grimace, sports strategists always claim that the best defense is a good offense. She decided a good offense in this situation would be to play dumb. “Is there something amiss, my lord?” ***** When Thomas had come upstairs to speak with Lady Maya, he hadn’t expected to see her attired so wantonly. ‘Twas scandalous. ‘Twas sinful. ‘Twas making him hard. “Nay Lady Maya,” he managed to choke out, “naught is amiss.” Maya nodded then looked thoughtfully up at Thomas. “Your women do not wear costumes such as this at clan celebrations?” Thomas thought on Maya’s words for a moment then scowled. If this is how women dressed in the Tampa clan then that must mean his were not the first male eyes to behold her in this nigh naked state. A chilling sense of possessiveness crept up his spine and made its way to his eyes. He narrowed them menacingly at Maya to show her his disapproval. “Ye would tell me then that yer laird approves of this fashion of dress?” Maya nodded as she locked eyes with him. “Yes Thomas, all women of my clan dress like this. Why, we even dress like this to the church. Do you not like it?” She twirled around in a circle, just as she used to do in front of department store mirrors back home when she was trying on a new outfit. Maya hid her smile at the indignant look on Thomas’s face. Ha! He could hardly accuse her of being a harlot if all women in the Tampa clan dressed just like her, and to church no less.
  • 32. “Tae the chapel? Thomas bellowed, his fists clenched at his sides. “Yer laird would ha’ ye attired in these clothes in a holy place?” Maya blinked, seemingly surprised by his reaction. “Well of course, Thomas, what else would we women wear?” She smiled fully, displaying pearly white teeth. Oh yeah, this was fun. Thomas slammed the door to Maya’s bedchamber closed and took three long strides across the room to stand before her. Or maybe it wasn’t so fun, she warily conceded as he loomed over her. “Ye willna dress like this whilst ye are in my keep, that I can tell ye!” He scowled down at her with his brows knit ferociously together, daring her to say it otherwise. Maya hadn’t had any intention of wearing her Elvira costume around Castle MacGregor, but Thomas’s threat was exasperating. “I will wear what I wish,” she said calmly, yet distinctly, her hands resting in fists at her hips. “Like hell ye will, woman!” he shouted back at her, grabbing her by the arms. “When I return tae yer chamber in an hour hence ye will be bathed and properly attired. Do ye no’ heed me, ye will be turned o’er my knee and this time no mercy will I show ye!” Maya frowned, her anger rapidly rising. This was three times now that he had brought up this business of spanking her. The third time made her even more furious than the other two threats had. So what if he stood a full foot taller? So what if he outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds? So what if her life was in his massive hands? Yes, okay, so she was a quick-tempered idiot! Sara was always telling her as much. Maya clenched her fists together fiercely at her sides, shook her head in anger, screamed a garbled war cry from the depths of her throat, and kicked him in the shin. “I am not a child! You will not spank me!” Thomas’s blood boiled to a temperature hot enough to turn his face red. The wench had kicked him! He couldn’t believe it! In all his years of five and thirty she had done what no other had ever dared. Thomas picked Maya up off of the floor by the back of her dress with one hand and drew her face close to his. He spoke to her in a voice so calm and controlled that Maya knew it was time to back down. “Do ye ever do that again, ye will know more than a child’s spanking. Do ye strike me again, ye will know my wrath.” Maya swallowed roughly and nodded, casting her eyes to Thomas’s chest. “I should never have done that. I…I am s-sorry.” Thomas said nothing in response for a long moment as he continued to hold Maya in mid-air. She felt the tension in his thickly muscled body so strongly that she was afraid to look him in the eyes. When at last he spoke, his voice resumed its usual tyrannical bellow, making Maya breathe in relief. She could handle him when he was like this at least. “Now then, ye will do as ye are bid. Do I make myself clear, little laird?” Maya met Thomas’s scowl with one of her own, but relented in the end with a brief nod. “Verra well then,” he hissed in a tone of pure male satisfaction, “I shall return in an hour’s time.” Just as he was about to release Maya, the material of her dress gave way to the pressure of holding up her entire body. The gown ripped into two pieces, causing Maya to shriek as she plummeted to the floor of the bedchamber. Without thinking, Thomas whipped his free arm around Maya’s back in an effort to keep her from hitting the hard stone floor. He lost his footing and ended up stumbling to the ground, landing right on top of her still form. She sucked in her breath when the wind was
  • 33. knocked out of her, her face turning a shade of pale white. “Maya! Are ye alright?” Thomas demanded that she answer him as he smoothed her golden curls behind her head and studied her face. “Speak tae me lass, are ye well? I would never knowingly bring harm tae ye.” Maya concentrated on steadying her breathing, then offered Thomas a faint smile once she was back in control. “I am fine,” she choked out. “I just want to rest after my bath.” Thomas nodded as he moved to lift himself off of Maya’s body. He sat atop her in a mounted position, glancing down as he prepared to hoist his body completely from hers. And then he couldn’t. He could scarcely breathe, let alone move. Maya, he realized, was naked. Chapter 6 Maya met Thomas’s eyes and realized that his scowl was no longer there. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t worried… He was turned on. If the glazed over look in his gaze hadn’t given away his state of arousal, then the rock-hard and thick protrusion at her belly most certainly did. She didn’t want him to want her. Nor did she want to feel attracted to him herself. She needed or desired no complications in her plan to escape back to her own time. Still, it was difficult to pretend that his nearness didn’t affect her. She’d found him savagely handsome since the moment he had arrogantly dismounted before her several hours ago. She’d found him provocative since she had cracked open the first ancient document that told the tales of his prowess in battles. Maya sighed in resignation. Physically, she wanted him. More than she’d wanted a man in her entire life. A thousand times more than she had ever wanted Nick. Ah, what the hell… She slowly drew her arms up from the stone floor of the bedchamber and wrapped them around Thomas’s neck. She parted her lips and looked expectantly up at him, telling him without words how she felt. Thomas blinked when he realized that this beautiful woman lying beneath him wanted him as badly as he wanted her. His flesh grew painfully swollen with the knowledge of it. He cursed himself for his weakness, knowing full well that he couldn’t make love to her. If he loved this lady the way his body wanted him to, he’d never let her go and that would cause a thousand complications he didn’t desire to have. Even so, he wanted to know the feel of her, the taste of her on his lips. Just a kiss. One kiss would hurt no one. Thomas cradled Maya’s head in his arms and slowly lowered his mouth to hers. He brushed gently across her upper lip then just as sweetly across her lower one. He lingered at her lower lip, taking it between his teeth and sucking softly on it. Maya’s breath caught in her throat. The feelings he stirred were beyond anything in her experience. Thomas mentally groaned. This wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. Although he would not make love to Maya, he would at least know the taste of her kisses fully. His mouth left her bottom lip to suckle on her upper one, then came back down to taste from the lower once more. At the sound of her whimper, he abandoned all caution and slipped his tongue between
  • 34. her slightly parted lips. He kissed her hesitantly, uncertain as to how she would react. Maya moaned as her belly began to coil in need. She couldn’t believe it. The man had scarcely touched her, yet she wanted him with a desire she didn’t begin to fathom. She needed more, and fast. She grabbed Thomas by the nape of his neck and pulled his face down to cover her own. She strengthened their kiss with an animalistic passion, darting her tongue in and out of his mouth to mate with his. They kissed intimately and passionately for endless minutes, neither of them willing to release the other. Thomas’s erection grew stiffer. Maya’s reaction to his kiss was more provocative and heady than he could bear. He was torn. His mind shouted at him to regain his sanity and get off of her compliant body. His heart and his flesh demanded otherwise. Thomas continued to raid her mouth with his tongue as he eased his hands between their bodies and branded her flesh with the same possessiveness with which he had claimed her mouth. He stroked first her throat and then her shoulders, gradually making his way down toward her breasts. He continued to kiss her as he cupped a plump breast in each hand and teased her nipples into puckered points. Maya gasped in shock and delight. Perhaps she had wrongly assumed that this “primitive” Highlander would know nothing of pleasing a modern woman’s body with the skill in which he did, but now she was forced to discard that notion completely. His fingers gripped at her nipples with a firmness that was unspeakably pleasurable. He caressed them between thumb and forefinger, elongating them more with each upward stroke. “By the saints, how I want ye.” Thomas trailed his hot tongue from Maya’s mouth to her chest. He cupped the fullness of her breasts once more and drew them as close together as possible for his mouth. He hastened from one nipple to the other over and over again as he suckled, unable to decide which one he wanted more, so choosing neither and claiming them both with a frenzied passion. Maya groaned and thrashed her hips against Thomas, wanting him to possess her fully. She reached down and rubbed his chest, teasing his nipples into the same state of arousal as her own. His chest was sleek and well muscled, with just enough black hair coating it to run her fingers through. She thought she was going to explode if he didn’t take her soon. “Please, Thomas. Please. Make love to me.” A knock sounded on the door, causing Maya to groan, and not in a good way. She wanted to kill whoever was on the other side of it. “Milady, ‘tiz Matilde. I am here to help ye wiz yer bath.” She knocked again. “Milady?” Maya sighed in disgruntlement then cleared her throat. She raised her voice in order to be heard from behind the chamber door. “I shall be ready in a while, Matilde. Please come back later.” No more sounds came from the hall, so Maya rightly assumed that the servant had taken her leave. She took a breath of satisfaction and smiled up to Thomas. She wrapped her arms around the laird’s neck and looked at him expectantly. “Shall we take up where we left off?” she whispered. Thomas blinked as if he had been snapped out of a trance. This had gone too far. Had it not been for Matilde’s interruption, he would have made love to Maya without thinking twice about it. He narrowed his eyes at the woman beneath him and threw her arms from around his neck as if they burned him. “Ye are a bewitching little wench, are ye no’?” He smiled coldly at her widening eyes and taunted her further. “I suppose ye thought tae seduce me and get with my bairn tae trap me?” He shook his head and sneered at her. “It willna happen.”
  • 35. Maya gasped, recoiling from him immediately. She couldn’t believe this was the same man that had touched her so tenderly only moments beforehand. The betrayal she felt was easily readable in her gaze. Twice now he had done this to her, turning on her like a rabid dog. “Get out,” she whispered, more hurt in her voice than anger. “I will leave tomorrow. Just get out.” And when he made no motion to leave her—“Now!” Maya’s words upset Thomas, though he didn’t understand why. He should be glad she wished to leave him. He should be, but he wasn’t. He shrugged indifferently, refusing to show her otherwise. “So be it. I’ve wenches aplenty tae see tae me here.” “Then go to them,” she breathed quietly as she rolled to her side and drew herself up to her feet. Maya walked to the bathtub without looking back and climbed inside of it to soak. She felt tears burning behind her eyelids, demanding to fall, so she kept her back to him in case they did. Thomas’s shaft thickened from the sight of Maya’s rounded buttocks lowering into the wooden tub. He sighed as he shoved an agitated hand through his hair. He was wrong and he knew it. The lady had never tried to trap him. He was the one that had barged into her bedchamber. He was the one who had discarded her clothing and kissed her thoroughly. He was the one that had taken her breasts to his mouth and suckled. Him. ‘Twas all his own doing. “Maya, I–” “Forget it, Thomas,” she interrupted with no emotion in her tone. “It doesn’t matter. Just leave. Please.” He hesitated. After a drawn out moment he nodded in surrender, though she couldn’t see it because her back was to him. He gathered himself together, walked briskly toward the chamber door, and disappeared through the other side of it. Maya let out a deep breath and indulged her eyes in their need to shed tears. No man had ever made her feel so lowly before. Not even Nick. Thomas’s harsh words were a thousand times more painful than Nick’s infidelity ever was. She drew her knees up to her chest and quietly cried. She had to get out of here. She needed to get out of here. But how? Chapter 7 Thomas rode swiftly northeast, flanked by a handful of his men at either side. He’d been gone from the keep for nigh unto a sennight delivering the widows Mary, Judith, and Matilde to the Hamilton clan. The Hamiltons had been good allies to have before the Bruce came to power, for if a Sassenach wanted to attack the MacGregors, they would have had to get through the Hamilton lands first. Not that a Sassenach had ever tried to attack the MacGregor’s stronghold. The English were brave mayhap, but not stupid. The Highland terrain was too overwhelming and deadly to a man not used to it. Especially as far to the north as Thomas’s stronghold was situated. Still, the Hamiltons had been good allies, so even though the buffer their lands once provided was no longer needed as much in Bruce’s Scotland, Thomas would continue to reward their alliance where possible. The Hamiltons were in need of women, so the MacGregor delivered three widows young enough to remarry and breed bairns. In exchange, the Hamiltons offered the laird grains aplenty and a few cattle, their lands being ideal for cultivating many different varieties of crops, as well as shepherding animals. Thomas hadn’t planned to accompany his men to see the deed done, but after his fight
  • 36. with Lady Maya he had done just that. The scene he’d created in her bedchamber the night of her arrival was bad enough, but the argument they had engaged in the following morning was too much to calm down from quickly. He had left the keep instead, knowing he’d need every moment he was away from home to collect his wits together. The morning after Lady Maya had ordered him from her bedchamber, Thomas sought her out and tried to apologize. Saucy wench that she was, she had refused to even acknowledge the fact that he was speaking to her. The MacGregor did not take well to that show of disrespect and, in fact, ordered her to talk to him. He should have known better. Maya did talk to him after that, if one was to call it such. Indeed, she talked incessantly for an hour’s time, blistering his ears with all manner of ugly words. Thomas couldn’t be certain what “butt-head” was, but he suspected from the way her eyes flared when she said it that ‘twasn’t a good thing. Maya had demanded that he let her go home, which of course he wouldn’t do. She then proceeded to demand why, which, of course, he could not tell her because he himself didn’t understand his own emotions much of the time. He left the keep after that, stormed out of it in fact, leaving bad feelings between them in his stead. Thomas rode his mount silently, not paying attention a’tall to the conversations going on around him. His men were in a fine mood, anxious to see the looks of awe on the clan’s faces when they rode in with so much grain and a few other spoils in tow. Normally, Thomas would be excited too, but today he couldn’t be. He would see Maya in less than an hour’s ride and he wondered what would take place between them when he got home. He also wondered if she had tried to escape whilst he was away. The MacGregor sighed as he opened his hand and eyed the necklace sitting on his callused palm. He had purchased the stone and gold chain, among other trinkets, as a peace offering to Maya at a fair he and his men happened upon on their way back from the Hamiltons. From first glance he could see the large stone, which the merchant had called a ruby, being worn by no other woman than Maya. The stone was brilliant and fiery, just as its soon-to-be mistress was. He only prayed that ‘twould be enough to coax her into forgiving him for his careless words and deeds. And still, after nigh a sennight, the laird had no idea what had possessed him to behave to Maya as he had that night he’d first found her. He had bullied her on the battlements, yet in the end she had clung to him. He had barged into her rooms, yet she hadn’t thrown him out. He had growled at her and threatened her, yet when he kissed her she had reacted to him in passion instead of hatred or even fear. He had teased her body into want and she had accepted him eagerly rather than turning away from him. And he rewarded her by hurting her feelings at every turn, causing her prickly defenses to lash out. Thomas shook his head, completely vexed with his sorry self. He probably was this butt-face she had accused him of being. Had he kept his mouth shut, he would know what ‘twas like to be buried deep inside her yielding flesh. He would know the taste of the whole of her body. He would know the look upon her face as she trembled in his arms and came in need. He would know the heaven of possessing her instead of the hell he’d subjected himself to these last seven days by being away from her and wondering what making love to her would be like. Thomas rolled the massive ruby between his large, callused fingers and sighed. He hoped that the stone would bend her mood enough to make her agreeable to him once more. *****
  • 37. “Damn it.” Maya set down the tapestry she’d been working on with Sara and her new maid Lena. She scowled. Sara chuckled. “Don’t worry, darling, you’ll get the hang of it.” “I don’t know that I want to get the hang of it.” “Well you better. It’s not like there’s anything else to do around this place and your two escape attempts met with a bitter end if you will recall.” Maya frowned at that reminder. Realizing her choices were sewing a tapestry or being bored out of her brain, she took a deep, dramatic sigh, then picked up her end of the tapestry again. Her new maid Lena, Matilde’s replacement, gave her a speculative look before asking any questions. “I dinna ken, milady. Dinna ye sew back home?” Maya glanced over to Lena. She was a cute girl, quite young, and possessed a bubbly, vivacious personality. Lena had asked Maya’s permission to become her new lady’s maid within minutes of Matilde’s departure. The girl appeared so excited by the prospect of it that Maya never would have told her anything but yes. She couldn’t understand why someone would actually aspire to caring for her, but there it was. “Not really.” Lena chuckled. “I vow I canna see how ye could do otherwise. I would expire from boredom did I no’ sew. Had ye other entertainment in the Tampa clan whilst yer men were away?” Maya snorted. The most painful bikini waxing on planet earth was more entertaining than this sewing business. She was about to say so, but subdued herself, realizing that it would only serve to open up another can of worms. Besides, it was time to start using her brain again…the brain encased in her extremely thick skull. This was the fourteenth century for goodness sake. This was what a fourteenth century woman did—she sewed. Tragic though it might be, constantly spewing venom from her mouth wouldn’t change that fact of life. In fact, the venom might cause her some problems. Problems like the ones she currently had with Thomas. She thought her tongue would have been too frightened to keep on goading Thomas, yet goad him she had, she morosely recollected. She was determined to watch her mouth from now on. And preferably before she ended up murdered at his hands. Sara smiled while she stitched Robert the Bruce’s armor into the tapestry, having gotten the knack for sewing right off the bat. “I can hardly wait to see Dugald again. John the Elder said they’d be back either tomorrow or the next day.” Maya rolled her eyes as she gave forth a half-hearted attempt at stitching the Bruce’s boots into the cloth. Sara pinched her lips together as she put down her sewing. “Please don’t make fun of me, Maya,” she muttered. Maya’s eyes rounded then settled to their normal size. “I’m sorry.” Sara nodded, but said nothing. Eventually she picked her stitching back up and resumed her work. The three women stitched quietly for a few minutes more until Maya gave a snort of laughter. Sara and Lena looked at her as if she’d lost her mind, which made her laugh again because she probably had. “What the hell is so funny?” Sara asked in bewilderment. Maya shook her head, trying to find the right words to describe her mood. “It’s just…it’s—” “It’s what?” Sara asked in exasperation when she didn’t continue.
  • 38. Maya shrugged her shoulders and grinned. “It’s just that I think I’m jealous of you.” Sara’s eyes flared in astonishment. “Whatever for?” “Dugald is the perfect man. If we end up stuck on this godforsaken mountain, you couldn’t ask for a better mate to be stuck with. My prospects, however, are nonexistent.” She laughed again, only this time her chuckle was anything but humorous. Lena shook her head, denying that allegation out of hand. “’Tis no’ true, I assure ye. My lord Thomas does love ye much. He’s just yet tae realize it is all.” Maya shook her head in bemused exasperation at her maid, setting her needlework down in favor of crossing her arms over her chest. “How did you come up with such a wild conclusion? The man is awful to me. He growls and barks at me in one breath, pulls me toward him for a kiss the next, then pushes me away with all his might yet the next. I’d call that a mix of lust and hate, not unrealized love.” Lena shook her head again, as certain of her romantic conclusion as she was certain that the grass is green. “I may only be fifteen summers, but I ken my laird better than ye. He’s my cousin, ye realize? That he tries tae push ye away is a good sign tae my thinkin’, for he’s never shown such passion toward a woman afore.” Lena giggled. “The servants find it verra amusin’ that my lord willna allow ye tae go home.” Maya frowned. “Forgive me if I fail to see the humor in the situation.” “Humor?” “Uh…amusement.” “Ah. Well as tae that, trust me when I say ‘tis a good thing. Truly the laird has never been so passionate toward a woman.” Lena shrugged. “Out a bed,” she qualified with a grin. Sara looked up from her stitching, suddenly more interested in the maid’s tale. “What do you mean?” Lena shrugged again, though this time in seriousness. “My laird does no’ concern himself o’er women. He takes ‘em tae his bed and that is always the end of the tale. The fact that he dinna take a woman as comely as Lady Maya tae his bed when he so obviously desires her says a lot.” Lena sighed and shook her head forlornly. “’Tis the Lady Elizabeth’s doin’, this.” Maya knit her brows together and stared at her maid. A lady, eh? For some reason, knowing that Thomas had loved another didn’t sit well in her belly. In fact, she hated the woman already. “Who is this Lady Elizabeth?” she muttered. “His mother.” Maya released a possessive breath. The lady was Thomas’s mother, not a former love of his. “What on earth did his mother do to him?” Lena shrugged her shoulders. “No one knows. I suspect Sir Dugald does, but he would never betray the laird’s confidence.” “But you said this was Elizabeth’s doing. What did you mean by that?” Lena pondered the question thoughtfully for a moment. She tapped her finger against her cheek and squinted her eyes slightly, forcing herself to recall a long ago forgotten event. “’Tis a rumor in the village that ‘twas started even afore I was birthed. Little is known aboot Elizabeth’s death, but ‘tis been long said that it shook the laird so fiercely that he vowed never tae let himself love a woman.” Lena clucked her tongue. “’Tis sad, do ye ask me.” Maya glanced at Sara, unspoken sorrow for Thomas in the air between them. Losing his mother must have been extremely difficult. “You’re right, Lena. It is sad.” And truly it was. Maya could understand not wanting to give a part of herself away to someone else better than anyone. No one wants to set theirself up to be hurt. Going out on an emotional limb was hard enough in the twenty-first century, but to do so in the fourteenth century where the death of your loved ones was commonplace and came far too early in life
  • 39. would no doubt be excruciatingly difficult. She mentally groaned. As much as she wished it otherwise, she simply couldn’t stay angry at Thomas after hearing Lena’s story. “Will we be eating the noon meal soon?” Sara put the question to Lena with a placid smile across her face, thankfully changing the topic. “Aye, milady. Any time now, I’m thinkin’..” The women’s chatter was interrupted a few minutes later by the sound of horse’s hooves and shouts coming from outside of the keep. The three of them looked at each other wide-eyed, all of them thinking the same singular thought—the castle was under siege. Maya yelled for John the Elder when she saw him stride through the front doors. “What is happening, John? Are we under attack?” John whipped his head around to respond to Maya. He couldn’t stifle the slight chuckle that overcame him when he saw the terrified expressions on the three women’s faces. “Nay, milady, our lord has returned.” The circle of women released a collective sigh, causing the elder to chuckle again. “Come and greet him. My lord and his men ha’ returned with many spoils.” Maya frowned. Spoils she took to mean thievery, but she said nothing. Besides, she had an overwhelming urge to see Thomas and didn’t wish to put it off any longer. She was a little worried concerning how he would react to seeing her after their fight, but she shrugged it off and put it from her mind. Whatever his reaction, she’d find a way to deal with it. “I thought he was to return tomorrow or the next,” she mumbled. John shrugged. “They rode hard on their return.” Maya nodded and took to her feet. “Then by all means lead the way.” She followed behind John the Elder and walked outside of the castle doors just as Thomas was dismounting. Sara rushed passed her and into the arms of Dugald, showering him with hugs and kisses. Dugald laughed and threw her over his shoulder, causing Thomas to glance over at the couple. He sighed. He was certain he wouldn’t be treated to such a welcoming from Lady Maya. “Hello, Thomas.” The laird’s ears perked up at the sound of the familiar husky voice as he turned on his heel to find Maya. He located her near the keep doors, striding purposefully toward him. He drew in a breath. Was she going to start a scene out in the open in front of all of his men? He stared at her as she approached, a sense of impending dread seeping through his skin. He certainly hoped they were not about to argue over the fact that he had refused her leave from his keep. He had been informed by a rider who came to greet them a mile outside the keep that she’d tried to escape twice during his journey. Thomas watched appreciatively as Lady Maya strode closer. What a comely lass she was. Even his memories hadn’t done the woman justice. She was a hundred times more desirable than he’d remembered. And ‘twas more than just her physical beauty. The lady was the embodiment of all the traits he admired in others—spirit, courage, willfulness, pride. Even her stubborn nature was a turn-on to a man used to women cowering at his feet. Maya gathered together her courage as she walked toward Thomas, once again overcome with an intrinsic fear of how he would react to seeing her after his trek. Maybe he hadn’t forgiven or forgotten their last argument yet. And could she blame him? She’d said many mean things, though mostly out of spite for the hurt he’d caused her. And then to find out from Lena why he had caused the hurt to begin with. The guilt was weighing down on her mightily.
  • 40. Looking at the MacGregor now, all Maya could think about was being held by him. He was so big, so strong, yet she knew how tenderly that gigantic body would cradle her. Some how, some way, she would make him forget his worries and hold her like that again. She would make him forget his vow and care for her despite Elizabeth’s death. If even for only a little while. “Hello Maya.” Thomas said the words quietly as he gazed into her eyes. They both stood transfixed, neither of them moving, neither of them uttering another word. They stared nervously at each other as if they hadn’t seen the other in years instead of a week and therefore couldn’t guess what their partner would think or say next. Maya cleared her throat and smiled up at him. She knew he’d never make the first move, so she decided to bury her wounded pride and make it for him. She walked the final step that put her within arms reach, slowly entwined her arms about his waist, and cradled her head into the warmth of his massive chest. Thomas was so stunned that he didn’t react right away. This show of affection was the last thing he’d expected when he had ridden toward the keep today. Yet it was welcome. Very welcome. He slid his arms around Maya’s back and pulled her as closely to him as was humanly possible. He dropped his chin and rested it atop his lady’s head, breathing in her enchanting fragrance. Loving her was a risk. Wanting her was a risk. He had spent many years hardening his heart against this very intrusion into it. But when Thomas held her against him such as he was, the past didn’t seem to glow as brightly anymore. It didn’t hover over him and threaten to bombard him with painful memories. Maya could make him forget Elizabeth’s sins. Maya could make him trust again. ‘Twas a conclusion he’d arrived at during his journey to the Hamiltons and a conclusion he could no longer deny. He wanted this woman. He needed her beside him. Whatever her arguments, he would never let her leave his side. Chapter 8 Dinner was a festive occasion in Castle MacGregor with the men boasting of all the spoils they had acquired while away. The tales were loud and no doubt exaggerated, but Maya scarcely heard them anyway. She was attuned to the man sitting next to her, their hands clasped together on his knee. “Do ye like the dagger I bought fer ye tae eat with?” Thomas nodded at the ornamental knife he’d acquired at the fair. Maya chewed the piece of fish in her mouth and swallowed before turning to him with a grin. “It was very thoughtful of you. Truly, I cannot get over how beautiful all of the stones in it are.” Thomas grunted. ‘Twas good to see how happy he was making his lady since his arrival. He could scarcely wait until they were alone later tonight to give her the necklace he’d purchased for her at the fair. Maya was bemused by all of the gentle attention and lavish gifts Thomas was bestowing her with. He had brought her back a gold gilt chest encrusted with rare stones and filled to overflowing with expensive silks and cloths. She imagined the fabric was given to her in order for her to fashion several dresses for herself from it.
  • 41. The anthropologist in her couldn’t help but to find the entire situation ironic, in a scientific sort of way. After all, the laird was quickly proving that since the beginning of time, men have used trinkets and gifts to appease their irate lovers. Thomas leaned over and whispered under his breath to Maya. “Does this mean ye ha’ forgiven me, lass?” Maya smiled a brilliant, white-toothed smile and squeezed his hand under the table. “Before you even returned.” He grunted. “Had I known that I would no’ ha’ raided my coffers afore I left.” At Maya’s feigned gape, Thomas chuckled. The men surrounding him at the table turned at the sound and stared openmouthed at him. Thomas frowned. He released his lady’s hand from under the table and crossed his arms over his chest. “What is everyone staring at?” A chorus of “nothing” rang throughout the hall followed by throats clearing and red-faced men watching Lady Maya through bemused eyes. Only Dugald had the nerve to snicker out loud. That act of boldness earned him a scowl from Thomas. Dugald only laughed harder. Maya and Sara looked at each other and shrugged. Neither of them understood the subtle communication that was transpiring between Thomas and his men. Had they known this was the first time Dugald had heard Thomas chuckle in years, and the first time the rest of the men had heard him laugh period, they would have understood. But they were both blissfully unaware of the significance of the laird’s small show of humor. Uncomfortable with the looks the MacGregor men were throwing her way, Maya turned to Thomas and smiled. “Are you finished eating? You promised me a walk in the gardens by moonlight, remember?” At the sound of his men’s unrestrained howls of laughter, Thomas had the grace to blush. “Moonlight?” his man Stephen bellowed. “Gardens?” another guffawed. Thomas eyed his men with grim-faced resolution, determined to put a halt to their teasing at once. The room immediately quieted, though ‘twas apparent the soldiers had to work hard to stifle their laughter. “Ye giggle like wenches,” he growled. “Me thinks I will ha’ some hides in the lists on the morrow.” The soldiers stopped smiling. Thomas grunted, satisfied he’d regained his sense of manliness in the eyes of his men. “Let us go, milady, and leave these women tae their gossip.” Maya nodded, bemused. She rose to her feet immediately and followed behind him to the keep’s doors. They walked hand-in-hand through the gardens, their path well lit by the light of the nearly rounded moon. Maya couldn’t seem to wipe the smile that she’d worn since Thomas’s arrival from her lips. Her laird might not use the flowery poetic words of Dugald or be quick to laugh and jest like him, but he showed his caring in other ways. It was more than the gifts, more even than the handholding. It was the look in his eyes, the way he caressed her palm while clasping her hand, the fact that he hadn’t tried to back out of their moonlit stroll, even though she knew his men would tease him for it when they returned. This was the place she wanted to be. She only wished she could stay here in good conscience. Thomas squeezed her hand as he drew her to a halt under a fragrant pine tree. “Ye look happy, lass. I ha’ pleased ye today then?” Maya buried her face in his chest and hugged him tightly around the middle. “Yes.” He chuckled as he wrapped his arms around his lady and pulled her as close to him as was possible. “I’m glad fer it.”
  • 42. “Hmmm.” Maya couldn’t seem to get any words out, only that sound. This was as close to bliss as she’d ever been. Words just didn’t seem appropriate. Thomas held her securely in his arms for long minutes. He gently rubbed her back and stroked her hair while he planted the occasional chaste kiss atop her head. He said nothing, simply enjoyed the feel of holding her. This felt so right. ‘Twas as if the woman had been created for him and him alone. Not even Angus’ prejudiced preaching on the subject of women in general mattered when he embraced Maya in this fashion. The hate that Angus had used to mold Thomas’s early impressions was as faint now as the light of a dimming torch. The realization that he wanted Maya despite Elizabeth’s sins made the possessive feelings he harbored toward her grow even stronger. Many men would want Maya, but none could have her. She was his. Even if he had to lock her in his bedchamber for all eternity, she would be his and no other’s. “I’ve one last gift fer ye, milady.” Maya craned her neck back and looked up into Thomas’s face. She shook her head. “You don’t need to give me anything, Thomas. Just spending time with you like this is the greatest gift of all.” The MacGregor felt a rush of warmth flood into his long dead heart and work its way down to his toes. She wasn’t lying. He was damned good at judging the merit of people’s words and he knew that his lady meant what she’d said. He smiled at her. A real, honest to goodness, heart stopping smile that made Maya suck in her breath from the beauty of it. “I’m glad tae hear those words, sweeting, yet do I ha’ another gift I’ve been wanting tae give ye all day.” Thomas reached under his tunic and pulled the necklace he’d been wearing over his head. He smiled again when he saw the wide-eyed expression of awe on his lady’s face. He gently placed the ruby necklace over her head then patiently waited for her to hold up her hair so he could work the gold chain all the way around her neck. “I knew ‘twas meant fer ye the moment I laid eyes on it. I want ye tae wear it always that ye might think of me as often as I think of ye.” “Oh Thomas, this is beautiful. Just…beautiful..” She felt something awfully close to a tear forming in her eye. The tear never spilled, but it glistened brilliantly, letting him know that it was there. “Thank-you.” Maya laid her head against Thomas’s chest again, feeling utterly content. She closed her eyes and smiled as he ran his long callused fingers through her silky golden hair. He twirled a curl around his fingers and brought it to his face to inhale the sweet smell of it. “Ye are welcome, love.” Maya sighed as he wrapped his long, muscled arms around her and kissed her forehead. The kiss was possessive yet innocent at the same time, and it was endearing enough to make her wish that she could stay with this man forever. But she couldn’t. She knew she would go back home if fate found the way for her to go. She was a respected archeologist after all. The university in general and her grad students in particular counted on her. She couldn’t walk away from her commitments as if they were of no import merely because she had found her first real taste of happiness in a fourteenth century laird’s arms. Still, Maya couldn’t help but to enjoy the hard feel of Thomas wrapped around her body. He was built like a powerful god of war, yet more than equipped to handle the tenderness of her emotions at the same time. She couldn’t keep from hugging the knowledge to her soul that he cared for her. She drew the ruby into the palm of her hand and held it tightly. The stone gave her a warm, sentimental feeling in the depths of her typically cynical soul.
  • 43. God help her. She knew she was falling in love with this man. Chapter 9 Thomas escorted Lady Maya to her bedchamber a short while later. They walked slowly to the chamber door, hand-in-hand all the while. He opened the door for his lady, then closed it quietly behind them after they made their way inside. “It looks as though yer maid has yer bath ready fer ye.” Maya twirled around and looked toward the hearth. Sure enough, a bath was waiting for her, being kept warm by the flickering flames of the fireplace. She smiled. It looked like bliss. She turned her attention back to Thomas, sliding her arms around his muscled neck in the process. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him softly on the lips, thanking him without words for a wonderful evening. Thomas kissed her back, pulling her closer to him all the while. He deepened the kiss as much as he dared, forcing his tongue between her semi-parted lips. Maya groaned softly, accepting him fully. The smacking sounds of their wet kisses were as much a turn-on to Thomas as they were to Maya. He imagined the smacking sounds her womanhood would make when he buried his flesh inside of her. She was a passionate woman, his Maya, and he knew without reservation that she would be the best lover he’d ever taken to his bed. As much as Thomas wanted her, he also wanted to wait to claim her until they were wed. He had no desire to disgrace his lady by impregnating her before they spoke their vows. The gossips would have a field day with that bit of knowledge. He pulled his lips from hers gently, hesitantly. He rested his forehead atop her hair and sighed. “We best stop now afore I canna stop, love.” Maya groaned in disappointment. “I don’t want you to stop, Thomas.” He sighed. “God help me, but I dinna want tae stop either. Still, I must. I will no’ get ye with bairn until after we are wed.” Her eyes widened. Wed? Thankfully, Thomas didn’t see her reaction, for her face was still buried in his chest. Marry him? Oh God, how could she hurt this wonderful man? But she couldn’t marry him! She belonged in the twenty-first century, not the fourteenth. Maya closed her eyes against the pain lodging itself deep in her heart. She might not be able to stay behind and love him the way she wanted to, but she could at least leave him with a hell of a good memory of her. She backed away from Thomas and began fumbling with her clothing. Her gaze never broke from his while she unbuttoned her gown and parted it open. Thomas sucked in his breath and stared at his lady, unable to move or say anything. She was disrobing. In a moment she would be naked... Maya discarded the gown Lena had sewn for her, allowing it to fall to the floor and pool at her feet. Thomas’s shaft thickened, jutting beneath his plaid. The sight of his love’s naked body was more intoxicating than the richest of all wines. Her breasts were round and full, made for suckling babes, and for suckling him. Her legs were long and supple, stretching upward toward the tight valley between her thighs. The thatch of hair betwixt her legs was golden and curly. Thomas reached toward it, unable to stop himself, and found, to his delight, that her covering was as soft and welcoming as it looked.
  • 44. Maya closed her eyes as Thomas ran his callused fingers over her mons. She released a moan and felt her nipples harden into painfully tight points when he deepened his exploration and tenderly rubbed the folds of her wet flesh. She ached for his touch in a way she’d never ached before. The last of Thomas’s resolve faded abruptly away. If his lady wished to be bedded before their marriage, then so be it. He picked her up and strode toward the bed, lying down on top of her as they fell toward it together. Thomas sat up and studied Maya’s body eagerly. Lust consumed him. He reached down and plucked her nipples between his fingers. They were long and hard and he was filled with the urge to suck on them. She moaned as he lowered himself back down onto her body and crushed his face into her bosom. Thomas sucked hard on her nipples causing her hips to thrash beneath him. He groaned in pleasure as he suckled, turning her on all the more. She drew in her breath as the heat kindled intensely within her. “Make love to me, Thomas,” she whispered in bated breaths. “I don’t want to wait for you another moment.” She spread her legs wide as she stroked his back. “Please Thomas. I feel like I’m going to explode. Take me now.” He released Maya’s nipple with a growl and sat up on his knees. He looked downwards to her splayed legs and grunted in satisfaction. This was the first time he had gotten a look at the treasure between her thighs. Thomas sat spellbound, unable to draw his eyes away from her womanhood. He spread her legs wider, wanting to give himself a better look. He groaned. If he thought her nipples were as tasty as berries then he could well imagine what this feast would do to him. Unable to deny himself a moment longer, his mouth dove for Maya’s flesh, covering it fully. He found the swollen clit waiting for his tongue and took it between his teeth. He sucked hungrily upon it, relishing the scent and taste of her. She threw her head back and moaned, certain that she wouldn’t be able to hold off her fulfillment until he entered her. Maya arched her back, indicating that she could bear no more. She shook violently, causing the bed to tremble beneath her. “Thomas!” she screamed as her body gave into his touch and shuttered out its climax. Thomas lapped ravenously at her juices then drew himself to his knees once more. He was harder than he’d ever been in his life. He wanted Maya—nay, needed Maya—more than he thought it possible. He took his swollen shaft in hand and guided it toward her awaiting body. He couldn’t bear being apart from her for a moment longer. “My lord, ye must come!” Thomas growled in anger and frustration at the yelled summons coming from the other side of the bedchamber door. Maya sighed. The people in this castle had shitty timing. “What?” Thomas bellowed as he turned his head around to face the closed door. Maya recognized the owner of the voice immediately. It belonged to the same man whose voice of gloom and doom had damn near made Thomas kill her on the hillside when she and Sara had first arrived. “’Tis the MacAllisters, my lord. They ha’ been spotted on our land. Dugald says they must be fools enough tae attack!” Maya’s eyes widened in shock as her mouth dropped open. “Attacked? Oh my god, Thomas!” The laird quickly kissed Maya on the mouth then drew himself up to don his plaid. “Ye ha’ nothing tae fear, love. I would die afore I’d let a man harm ye.”
  • 45. Die? Oh no, Maya thought, she didn’t want him to die. She had forgotten how lawless the fourteenth century really was. Damn the MacAllisters anyway! “Thomas please be careful. I’m frightened for you!” “Fer me?” Thomas shook his head and scowled as he sat down to pull on his boots. “’Tis no’ wise tae insult me, milady.” Insult him? Because she was worried about him? Maya forgot all about the truce she had found in Thomas’s arms this day and resumed her warfare of words. “How dare you say that I was insulting you! Because I care enough about you to worry for your wellbeing I am insulting you?” “Maya I’ve no time tae listen tae yer ridiculousness right now,” Thomas barked, his frown back in place as he stood up. “I’ve a keep tae protect and a laird tae kill.” “Fine!” Maya fumed as she jumped from the bed and balled her hands into fists at her sides. “Leave me and my ridiculousness and go. I should have known better than to trust you with my feelings anyway.” “Maya!” Thomas roared as he reached to the ground for his sword. “We will discuss ye and yer childishness later. Go bathe.” He threw her another of his scowls then quickly strode to the bedchamber door. “You won’t have to worry about discussing anything with me sweetcakes,” Maya hissed, “because I won’t be here when you return!” Thomas paused before leaving the bedchamber long enough to sneer at her. “Ye will see how far ye get do ye try tae leave me again. I will hunt ye down like a dog and bring ye back do ye attempt tae go.” Like a dog? Maya screamed in rage then turned around and stomped off towards the bathtub. She jumped inside of the barrel with such force that water splashed from over the sides. Thomas grunted then shoved open the chamber door and made his way toward the lower bailey. Damn the woman’s wicked tongue! She knew how to rile his anger better than anyone he had ever come across. Better even than his country’s enemies at Bannockburn. Thomas located Dugald and hurried to where his commander-at-arms sat astride his mount, waiting for him. If the MacAllister wanted a battle, Thomas growled, then he was just the man to accommodate him. Chapter 10 Maya worked the rose scented soap through her hair and chastised herself over and over again until she was mentally black and blue. When was she ever going to learn to control her mouth? She was an anthropologist for goodness sake! She was acting like a two-year-old ninny. She knew that to a fourteenth century Highlander, questioning his ability to protect his self and his home was akin to the most grievous of insults. Still, when Thomas had called her ridiculous it had hurt her feelings more than she cared to acknowledge. At that moment, she had been a hurt lover and not a scientist. She couldn’t help but to worry for Thomas. He might consider himself mighty and omnipotent and therefore unable to succumb to death by sword, but Maya knew that he was just a man. A man formidable enough to pique her interest and a man powerful enough to command the respect of chieftains and kings, but still a man.
  • 46. Maya drew her arms around her upraised knees and considered her feelings. She took a deep breath as she stared into the flames of the hearth. Who was she kidding? Yes, there was no denying that she feared for Thomas’s safety, but she also realized that she had cast him away from her with her hurled threats for another reason that had nothing to do with the first. She was afraid to get close to him. Maya feared that if Thomas kept being nice to her, kept holding her in his arms and making her feel like a delicate treasure, she would abandon all plans of trying to find a way back home. Damn, but why did the man of her dreams have to live in a century far removed from her own time? She frowned as she sat in the tepid water and thought back on what Thomas had said to her before he left. He had promised that, if she tried to escape him, he would chase her down like a dog and bring her back. A dog! Like a dog! Maya’s frown slowly twisted into a wry smile. Hell, the man could never get a job writing Hallmark cards, but there was something primitively provocative about his promise nevertheless. She shook her head. One thing was for sure: the longer she stayed here, the more her resolve to go home wavered. If she didn’t find a way home soon, she would never want to leave. ***** Sara entered Maya’s bedchamber an hour later with a worried expression written all over her face. Maya knew exactly what was on her best friend’s mind for she had been dealing with the exact same fears ever since Thomas had stormed out of her room. For once, unflappable Sara looked pretty shook up. “Are you okay?” Sara shook her head as she climbed under the animal pelts and laid down next to her on the bed. “No. I’m not.” Maya nodded, letting Sara know that she understood. The two friends laid on the bed in silence for a long while until Sara finally spoke up. “I lied to you, Maya, and I’m sorry for it.” Maya sat up slowly, gazing at Sara as she did. She had thought that Sara’s morose state was due to the MacGregor clan’s impending battle with the MacAllisters. Apparently it wasn’t. “I thought you were referring to this raid we’ve been subjected to. What do you mean then?” Sara sighed as she pulled an animal pelt up to her chin to keep the shivers at bay. She avoided looking into her eyes. “I’ve read the documents Maya. They will not lose today.” “Then what is it?” Sara’s voice was quiet. With a sigh, she shook her head and admitted all. “I don’t want to leave, Maya. I never did. I know this will sound crazy to you because it sounds crazy to me, but I think I fell in love with Dugald before we even came back through time. Hell, reading about him was enough to stir my fantasies, but seeing him in the flesh…” Sara groaned. Maya smiled at her, though she wasn’t looking at her to see it. “Sara,” she cooed in a soft voice, “I was scared the other day when I said what I said. I would never think that falling in love is a betrayal of me.” Sara quickly glanced up at her to see if she was telling the truth. She let out a breath of relief when she realized that she was. “Thank-you, Maya.” Maya smiled at her then reached under the covers to take her hand in her own. “I love you
  • 47. Sara. I’ve loved you since we were little girls. If Dugald is what makes you happy, then I am happy. I mean that.” Tears came to Sara’s eyes, causing Maya’s eyes to round. Never ever had she seen Sara even remotely close to crying before. It was more than she could bear to witness at the moment. “Please don’t cry. I don’t think I could handle it right now.” Sara gazed down at the bed, knowing that if she looked at her when she said the rest of what she had to say, she might very well weep. “Please don’t leave me, Maya.” Her statement came out like a whisper. Maya chuckled, causing Sara to look at her with annoyance. “You don’t have to make fun of my feelings!” Maya laughed again then playfully rapped Sara over the head with her knuckles. “I didn’t mean to offend you dearest, but you say that as if I have a means of going home.” A wicked smile slashed across Sara’s lovely face. “I hope you never find one either.” “Sara!” Maya gasped with feigned outrage, “that’s an awful thing to wish on me! You might have found a truly chivalrous knight in Sir Dugald, but all I’ve found here is a man that grunts at me and orders me around as if I were a child…or the village idiot.” Sara chuckled, bemused by the frustrated expression that Maya was sporting. “You love him, don’t you?” Maya darted her eyes to Sara’s face and shrugged. She didn’t pretend to not understand exactly what her best friend was referring to. “I don’t know. No. Yes. I don’t know. I know he’s a tyrant.” Sara laughed. Maya threw an animal pelt at her. “It’s not funny!” “The hell it’s not!” Sara chuckled. “Dugald says that Thomas calls you the same thing!” Maya grinned. From a man like Thomas, calling her a tyrant was true praise indeed. She quieted for a moment then looked back at her best friend. “Maybe I do.” “What?” Sara asked. “Love him,” Maya clarified. “It’s hard to say. I mean, I’ve known the guy like what—a little more than a week? Yet there are moments when I am with him where I feel like I’ve known him my entire life. It’s strange you know? I feel almost as if everything in my life up until this point has happened only to prepare me for what I would find here, in this time.” Sara sat up in bed, drawing Maya’s hand back into her own. “Probables are that that statement is true.” Maya grinned. “You’re just saying that so I won’t play Dorothy and try to find the next twister going back to Kansas.” Sara chuckled at that. “Well there is that. But there is more.” Maya arched an inquisitive brow. Sara grinned then drew her face closer to Maya’s and whispered mischievously. “Has it occurred to you yet, oh demon wench, that you might very well be the mysterious Lady M?” Maya blanched, then slowly smiled. Damn. She hadn’t thought of that. ***** The squire, barely a man, shook in fear as he gazed into the MacGregor’s cold black eyes. There was no compassion in their lifeless depths, no hint of mercy in the dead pools of emotionless color. He was going to die. As a soldier, young Niall had been prepared for this day since his training first began. When the new laird Robert had declared his intention to steal from the MacGregor, he knew at that moment that the day would arrive sooner than expected. Damn that fool! Even though
  • 48. Niall hadn’t been a part of the raiding party, he was still a MacAllister. The MacGregor would never overlook that fact. At ten and six, Niall’s life was about to end. The MacGregor would take him out quick, that he could feel fortunate for. The laird wasn’t known for torturing a man needlessly. He would kill him, aye, but he would do it swiftly. “I…I ha’ told ye all I know, my lord. I was n-never p-privy tae the MacAllister’s p-plans.” Dugald pushed Niall to the ground, causing him to fall from a sitting position to his backside. “Do ye lie tae the MacGregor, ye will die. Do ye speak now, ye will live.” Live? Niall had never considered that as a possibility. The squire shook his head emphatically, his eyes wide and haunted. “I swear it tae ye, Sir Dugald! I dinna know where the MacAllister went. He took with him five of his most loyal men tae steal the lass, but I canna say where they would go if they dinna succeed.” Thomas lifted an eyebrow. Up until this point, from the time his men had first spotted MacAllister plaids on their hillside until the time he killed off all of them save Robert who he could not find, the MacGregor had assumed that Robert MacAllister had crossed onto his lands with the intent of lifting cattle. Never once had he thought the man would brave death to steal a woman. He was intrigued. Thomas looked around the MacAllister keep and sneered as he shook his head. Had Robert actually thought that this pathetic excuse for a tower with its barely manned gates had the fortitude to withstand his attack? He cast his black glare on Niall once more. “A wench? He provoked me tae steal a village wench?” Niall shook his head and told the MacGregor all he knew. “Nay my lord, ‘twas no’ a village wench that caught his eye, but a lady. I dinna know the whole of it, but I know ‘twas said by the laird that she was the comeliest of all lasses. The MacAllister said he first saw her on the hillside that divides our land from yers. ‘Twas said she sported a black cloak and was with a friend donned all in red. The laird boasted that he would be ruttin’ a’tween the lady’s legs within a sennight.” Thomas bellowed an outraged cry at the top of his lungs as he balled his hand into a fist. ‘Twas Lady Maya that young Niall spoke of. It could be no other. “The fool!” Thomas hissed, causing Niall to wince. “He thought he could take her from me.” The MacGregor narrowed his gaze at Niall, making the squire wonder if he should have been so brave as to be the bearer of bad tidings. Kill the messenger—lairds always killed the messenger. “What else, lad? Ye would be wise tae speak up now.” Niall swallowed roughly and wished like hell that he had more to say. The MacGregor wasn’t going to like the fact that he knew naught else. He cleared his throat and stuttered out his words. “As m-much as I wish I had more tae tell y-ye, I swear tae ye on my honor that I d-dinna ken more.” He took a deep, steadying breath, forcing his stuttering at bay. “I know ye probably dinna hold the MacAllister honor in high esteem at the moment, but I vow it that most of us were against his plan. Even Robert’s own younger brother would no’ back him in this madness.” Thomas snorted, bemused by the lad’s bravery to speak on behalf of his clan. “Ye are right lad, I dinna hold the MacAllister honor in high esteem a’tall. Yet do I believe ye. Will ye dare tae make me a fool?” Niall shook his head emphatically, feeling the first glimmer of hope he’d experienced since the MacGregor had leveled the keep’s gates. “Nay my lord, never.” Dugald grunted as he looked to Thomas. “What say ye? Is our business here done?” Thomas scowled down at Niall then lifted him into the air with one fist. “Ye will give yer laird a message. Do ye ken, lad?”
  • 49. A message? Niall realized that the MacGregor had to keep him alive in order for him to deliver anything. As terrified as he was by the look in the laird’s eyes, he blew out a breath of relief. Thomas’s lips curled into a sinister grin at Niall’s telling sigh. “Aye lad, ye will live. The MacGregor does no’ kill a young babe. But ye will do my bidding, ye ken?” Niall nodded wide-eyed at the MacGregor and awaited his instructions. “Tell yer laird this…” Thomas spaced out his words slowly and evenly so that the boy wouldn’t miss anything. “Tell Robert that he will die fer trying tae take my lady. Tell him that even does it take me until I breathe my last breath, I will hunt him down and I will kill him afore I breathe it. Fer attempting tae steal cattle I would ha’ maimed him, fer attempting tae steal my woman he will be shown no mercy.” Thomas released Niall and stalked away, not bothering to look back as the lad plummeted to the ground. He scowled as he took to his mount and rode from the gates of the MacAllister keep. Maya. This entire bloody uprising had all been over Lady Maya. Nay, no good ever came from claiming a comely wench. Chapter 11 Thomas stormed into Maya’s bedchamber a few hours later, as angry as he was when he had left the MacAllister keep. No matter how hard he tried, he could not calm down. The woman was getting to him. At first he had tried to tell himself ‘twas her beauty alone he desired, but the truth was that there was so much – too much – that he desired about her. She possessed spirit and courage. She claimed a good heart and enough passion to rival even his own. And aye, she was comely. Comely enough that the fool MacAllister would dare to make war to possess her. Robert had actually thought to steal her. Damn the man! Thomas was in the mood for a good fight. And he knew that if there was anything he could count on where his lady was concerned, ‘twas her willingness to oblige him in that respect. He strode over to Maya’s bed preparing to shout at her, then came to a sudden stop when he looked down. She was sleeping, he noticed, and quite peacefully, looking more lovely than she did when awake. Thomas ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. It wouldn’t be right to awaken her. She looked too serene, too happy. Too beautiful. Thomas sat down on the bed quietly and gazed at Maya. Her features were even more flawless by moonlight. ‘Twas hard to believe that this sleeping angel was the same woman who turned into a bellowing shrew when awake. He ran his fingers through her hair, sweeping a few strands of golden curls behind her left ear. He watched her for a few minutes more, then decided it was best if he left her to her dreams. He drew himself up slowly and crept soundlessly from the bedchamber. “Thomas?” Maya’s voice was thick with sleep as she sat up in the bed. The warm animal pelts fell to her stomach, leaving only the thin chemise she wore as covering. Her nipples poked at the thin
  • 50. material as they adjusted to the shock of the chilled night air. Thomas turned around to answer her and stood motionless when he saw her sitting upright in bed with only the flimsy chemise protecting her from him. He shook his head to clear it of its lusty thoughts. He walked back to the bed and sat down next to her. “Aye, love, ‘tis me.” He prepared himself for Maya’s tongue, certain that she was going to lay into him for the words they had spoken to each other afore he had ridden for the MacAllisters. He was surprised, though not unpleasantly so, when she threw her arms around his neck instead. “Thomas—Thomas, I am so sorry we fought. I’m just glad you are all right. I never meant to insult you.” He stroked Maya’s hair and held her to his chest. “Hush love, I ken that now. Mayhap such words are no’ insulting in the Tampa clan, so ye thought nothing of speaking them tae me. Is this so?” At her nod, he kissed her forehead. “Just as I thought. ‘Tis welcomed then do ye worry fer me if this is how ye show yer lovin’, but ye canna say those words in front of my men or they will think that ye shame me. Do ye ken?” Maya nodded and clung tighter to Thomas’s body. She had realized so much while he was gone. After she and Sara had talked, Maya understood that this man, with all of his faults, was her fate. She realized that she didn’t have to try to go home anymore because she was already here. She had spent hours after Sara left debating back and forth over whether or not it was possible that she was indeed the Lady M of antiquity. She remembered the painting of the lady, that they possessed the same hair and eyes. In the end she decided that Sara was right. She truly was the Lady M. And she also realized that she wasn’t exactly opposed to that notion. “Promise me Thomas that no matter what, you will never again part from me in anger. Please Thomas. Promise it!” Thomas lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. He was taken aback by how much caring and worry he saw in them. No one since his mum had concerned herself like this over him. Elizabeth. Nay, he would not think of his mother right now. He would not let her deceptions ruin his chance at knowing happiness with Maya. “Aye,” he promised, “I vow it.” Maya sighed then rested her face against his chest again. So this was love? She had thought she had known the emotion with Nick, but nothing could have prepared her for the feelings that Thomas brought out in her. “Will ye marry me, love?” Maya drew in her breath as her head shot up to look at Thomas. To say yes would mean that she really and truly was prepared to kiss her old life goodbye forever. She would never again know the comforts of modern day living. But to say no to Thomas…the outcome of that she couldn’t bear to think about. To never see him again, never know the feel of him inside of her, never hear his soft words of love or even his angry bellows…she couldn’t bear it. “Marry you?” Thomas frowned. She better not even think of telling him nay. “Aye, wed with me, lady.” He ran his fingers through his hair in agitation and scowled at her. “The saints know ye will make fer a most improper wife with that wicked tongue of yers, yet still do I need ye.” Maya’s mouth curved into a grin as Thomas gazed down into her eyes expectantly. “An improper wife? You think I won’t be suitable?” Thomas’s scowl deepened. “Ye ha’ the bearing of a queen, I admit, but the sharp tongue of a shrew as well.” Maya thought back on Nick and of his desire to marry her for reasons of social suitability alone. Her grin quickly turned into a full-mouthed smile. She threw her arms around
  • 51. Thomas’s neck and laughed. "That is the sweetest thing you have ever said to me! Of course I will marry you!" Thomas grunted, uncertain as to what he'd just said that made his lady so happy. Not many women, in fact none that he could name, would have been delighted at being called an improper shrew. But this was Maya, he mused. His Maya. That's all that mattered anymore. ***** Maya was awakened the following morning by a nagging pounding on her bedchamber door. “My lady!” a voice bellowed from the hall, “’tis time tae break thy fast!” She frowned. The voice belonged to that same rider on the hillside who had promised Thomas she would all but kill him if they didn’t flee from her. Great, just what she needed. To be woken up by the town crier. “Go away!” she retorted with an irritated growl. Silence enveloped the room for a moment, making Maya think it was safe to close her eyes again. She smiled in satisfaction. Getting rid of the voice of gloom and doom had been easier than she had thought it would be. “My lady!” the voice bellowed again, “The MacGregor sent me tae fetch ye and bring ye tae him I will. ‘Tis almost light outside. Ye need tae eat!” Almost light outside? Maya groaned. No wonder she was so tired. She probably fell asleep barely an hour ago. Thomas’s proposal of marriage had given her enough to think about to guarantee she would be awake for hours to come. He had left her after stating, much to her disappointment, that he would not “claim her” until after they were wed. Maya sighed. Was sleeping really worth getting this guy in trouble with Thomas over? She could always sneak in a nap later. “Okay. I will be there in, uh, posthaste. And by the way, what is your name?” “Thank-you, milady, and I am called Argyle.” Argyle? Like the sock? “Good day to you Argyle. I will open the door after I have dressed.” “I will wait, milady.” Maya frowned. Somehow, she didn’t doubt that. Chapter 12 Breakfast consisted of mutton legs, bread, cheese, fruit, and ale. And either the meal was downright delicious, or Maya was a lot hungrier than she had first thought. Everyone’s mood was jovial enough, especially after Thomas’s announcement that he was to marry her. The only one who was in a less than exuberant mood was, oddly enough, Sara. She soon found out why. “Sara dearest, don’t worry about it,” Maya mumbled in what Thomas referred to as Tampa English. “You’ve read the historical accounts. You know you’re going to marry Dugald. He’ll ask you soon enough.” Sara scowled at her then speared her cheese with the dagger Thomas had given her to use. She spoke a mile a minute in her and Maya’s foreign tongue, causing both Thomas and
  • 52. Dugald to look at her strangely. “What if the books are wrong? What if I’m stuck in this god-forsaken hellhole forever, without ever getting married to him? What if I end up a lonely and bitter old maid?” Maya grinned at Sara. She couldn’t help herself. “What the hell is so funny?” Sara demanded through set lips. Maya patted her on the back. “Have I ever told you how adorable you look when you’re not behaving so damned placidly?” Sara shot her a scathing look, causing Maya to bellow with laughter. Thomas and Dugald scowled in unison, neither of them appreciating being left out of the conversation. “Maya, ye will speak in Gaelic now. This Tampa English is no longer yer tongue. Do ye ken?” Thomas folded his arms across his chest and dared her to say otherwise. Maya arched an eyebrow. Thomas squirmed in his chair, trying to get comfortable. He had a feeling he was going to have to instruct Lady Maya on what is considered proper respect of him a lot sooner than he had wished to. Maya was about to gainsay him, but decided against it when she looked around at the expectant faces of Thomas’s men. She would not embarrass him in front of them without a better reason than his tyrannical tendencies. No, she’d wait and blister his ears when they were alone. She cleared her throat. “Forgive me, my lord. It’s an old habit.” Maya felt like laughing when she saw the expression on Thomas’s face. He looked like he didn’t know whether to fall over in disbelief, be thankful for her unexpected tact, or both. Good, she thought. Don’t ever let the big guy think he could take her willingness to oblige him for granted. “My lady,” Argyle asked, “where is this clan called Tampa? Are ye and Lady Sara from the Lowlands?” Maya had to smile at the inquisitive look on the young soldier’s face. Before she had opened her bedchamber door to him this morning, she had been prepared to dislike him. But Argyle had seen to endearing himself to her right away, by dropping down on one knee and professing his sorrow over having ever thought her to be a demon wench. She had let him stew for a moment, then forgiven him. He was already growing on her. “No Argyle, it’s not in the Lowlands. It’s in another land far away, across the oceans.” Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Across the oceans? Ye never did say how ye came tae be here.” Now it was Maya’s turn to squirm on the bench. Thomas noted her apprehension, but was put off on commenting on it by Lady Sara. “As I said before, we do not know how we came to be here. The best I can tell you is that those black clouds must have been magical. The colors inside of them drew us in against our will and when they finally released us we were here.” Excited chatter filled the room at Sara’s proclamation. This was the Middle Ages after all, when people still believed in the mystical. After living through what they had lived through, Maya had to wonder how far off the “primitive” medievals had been in their assumptions. “’Twas probably a witch who envied both of yer beauty and thought tae kill ye for it, but instead of dying ye were brought into the MacGregor’s protection instead.” Argyle decided this with a thoughtful look, as if he were an authority on the subject of it all. “Aye,” John the Elder agreed, “ye can best believe that tae be true. How else can this be explained?” The great hall broke into excited conversations once more as the soldiers and servants each gave their particular theories on how the seemingly impossible had happened. It was obvious that even Thomas and Dugald were awed by the tale. Thomas spoke up, causing the room to
  • 53. revert back to silence. “And this Tampa…how do ye know ‘tis so far away?” “Aye,” Dugald seconded as he set down his tankard, “how can ye know?” Sara cleared her throat, then looked to Thomas. She was still mad as hell at Dugald and refused to acknowledge his interest. “My father spoke to me of Scotland at length as a child. He said it was a faraway place like England and that we would have to cross the ocean to reach it. He said it would take weeks, perhaps months, to reach it by ship.” “Mayhap even years,” Argyle offered as he nodded in amazement. Maya snorted. Try seven hundred years. Argyle had no idea how close to the truth that he was just then. “Do ye know of any witches or wizards who should like tae see ye dead, Lady Maya?” John put the question to her, then settled back onto his bench and scratched his beard while he awaited her answer. Witches? Wizards? Hell, only Nick came to mind. “Actually yes,” Maya replied, causing Sara to all but choke on her food. “There was one.” The excitement in the room bubbled into chatter once again. Bemused, Sara nudged her in the side. “Do tell us, Lady Maya.” Maya frowned at Sara, then beheld the throng of captivated MacGregors surrounding her. Even Thomas looked like he was hanging on her every word. Hell, might as well give them a good tale. She widened her eyes dramatically, as if telling a ghost story at summer camp. “There was an evil wizard who preyed upon the ladies of the Tampa clan. He was known to us as Nick the Arse.” The soldiers laughed, apparently appreciating Nick’s new surname as much as Maya did. “He thought to wed me and force me into his den of deceit, but I fled from him and his evil maidservant, the wench Mindy.” Maya smiled smugly. She was enjoying this rendition of past events. “I told Nick the Arse that I would sooner die than take him for a husband. He tried to ply me with trinkets and gold, but I remained steadfast.” Argyle nodded his head in earnest. “We’ve no doubt that ye would sooner die than succumb tae the trickery of a wizard, milady.” Maya was too enthralled with her tale to give Argyle more than a cursory nod. “On his last attempt to claim me, during the clan celebration you already know of, he tried to win me with his smooth words at the home of my…uhh…liege lord, Lord Pete.” Sara arched an eyebrow. Lord Pete, eh? “But Lady Sara and I ran from Nick the Arse’s evil clutches. He gave a good chase, but soon the colors claimed us and Lady Sara and I were swept up into the black clouds. Then we were here.” Dugald knit his brow as he listened to Maya’s tale. “Mayhap the clouds were no’ sent from a witch then, but by God, that ye might escape the clutches of Nick the Arse.” Argyle stood up after that proclamation, apparently moved enough by the story to bellow one of his famous impassioned warnings. “Hear this, oh Nick the Arse! Do ye try tae claim the fair Lady Maya now, the MacGregor will rip out yer heart, cut off yer manhood, and spit on yer lifeless body!” He spat on the ground to emphasize his resolve. Maya winced as cheers went up throughout the hall. Nick was an ass to be sure, but that much retribution was hardly called for. “Aye!” John yelled as he rose to his feet, “the MacGregor will kill him!” A hardy rendition of “ayes” filled the air as the warriors showed Lady Maya their support. Thomas settled into his chair in smug satisfaction. Of course he would kill him. He was the MacGregor and Maya was to be his wife. Maya smiled hesitantly at Thomas. Nick the Arse had better pray that the black clouds
  • 54. never sweep him over to this side of the rainbow. Geez, she really had to learn to control her mouth! ***** The keep was a place of commotion for the next three weeks as the wedding preparations were made. Maya had been less than thrilled to learn that the ceremony would take place outside, as the Highlands were freezing this time of year. She just prayed it wouldn’t be snowing on her wedding day. “Ye are so lovely, milady. How I wish I were as beautiful as ye.” Lena crooned her praise to Maya, thereby eliciting a blush from her. She had never thought of herself as beautiful while living in the twenty-first century, but these Highlanders sure seemed to think she was. Hey, different strokes for different folks, she decided. Maya set down the comb she had been using on her hair and turned around to address her maid. “Lena, you are barely fifteen and already lovely. I’ve no doubt but that you will only grow lovelier.” Lena looked up from the stitching of Maya’s wedding dress and smiled. “Truly, milady?” “Truly,” Maya assured her. “You will marry very well, without a doubt.” Lena blushed then continued her stitching. “He loves ye, ye know.” Maya arched an eyebrow as she watched Lena sew. “Thomas?” “Aye.” Maya nodded. “I should hope so if I’m to marry him.” Lena chuckled. “Ye say that as if it is the common way of things. Of course, ye know that it isn’t. Ye are lucky ye are tae be wed tae a powerful laird, let alone one who loves ye so. Most women do no’ meet with such reward. Of course, ye are also more comely than most women.” Maya grinned. At last she understood where Lena was going with this conversation. After all, the girl had filled her ears for the last week with tales of romantic love and wedding the man of her dreams. Because she was the niece of Angus MacGregor, and could claim a small inheritance, she was afraid she would be forced into a union she didn’t want. Inheritances were scant in the rugged Highlands and therefore highly coveted. “So you are hoping you will have your pick of men and be able to wed for love?” Maya chuckled at Lena’s telling blush. “Do not concern yourself over it, Lena. I will speak to Thomas on your behalf when the time comes. If it’s within my power to sway him, you will marry whomever you want. I promise.” Lena grinned at her. “I knew ye would understand, milady. Naught but goodness ha’ ye brought tae our clan.” Maya glanced away. “You exaggerate.” “Nay milady, never.” Maya turned her back to Lena and resumed the task of brushing out her wet hair before the warm fire. She wasn’t at all accustomed to people carrying on about her and praising her every word. She supposed that she would have to get used to it if she was going to remain here because that’s how this culture chose to operate. Still, all the undeserved flattery tended to make her feel downright…well, weird. “Aren’t ye excited, milady?” Maya turned around in her seat again. “About what?” Lena giggled. “Yer wedding, milady!” She smiled. “Of course I’m excited!” And then under her breath she muttered, “but I’m also a little nervous.” Maya thought at first that Lena hadn’t heard her confession, but she was proved wrong on
  • 55. that score as the girl prattled on about all the reasons she should be excited instead of nervous. “…and after ye speak yer vows then we shall ha’ the feast of all feasts! Cook shall prepare more dishes than ever ye ha’ seen and there will be dancing and laughter all night. Even Harold the Sotted will sing fer ye! I ken that…” “Harold the Sotted?” Maya interrupted. “Who is that?” Lena put down her sewing and flew over to Maya in excitement. She took the silver comb from Maya’s hand and began brushing out her hair for her. Maya grinned. Lena was so sweet and eager to please. She couldn’t help but to fall in love with the girl. “Harold the Sotted is minstrel tae the MacGregor, milady. He will sing many tunes for ye and the laird in honor of yer wedding. ‘Tis always so exciting when he sings.” Lena sighed, a dreamy, faraway sound in her voice. “His ballads are so lovely. I hope tae be one of the comely women he sings of one day.” Maya shook her head and chuckled. “But why is he called Harold the Sotted?” Lena giggled, causing two perfect little dimples to appear on either cheek. “He takes tae his cups o’er much, milady.” Maya laughed. “So in other words, Lena dearest, you are telling me that the village drunk will be singing ballads at my wedding?” Lena giggled again and nodded. “Pray dinna take offense tae him, milady. He’s old and unlikely tae change. But his tunes are lovely, just wait and see.” Maya’s lips curled wryly. Medieval wedding receptions were infamous for the bawdy jests and sexual innuendoes that accompanied them as it was. How much bawdier would it get having Harold the Sotted singing at her wedding? This, she grinned, should prove to be interesting. Chapter 13 The sound of swords clashing together in the yard drew Thomas’s curiosity. Practice had ended over an hour ago, so there was no justifiable reason for fighting to still be taking place. The laird walked over the battlements to get a view of who was sparring below. He came to an abrupt halt when he found his quarry. Dugald? Thomas raised an inquisitive brow and watched. Dugald was fighting a young lad who had been sent by his father to be trained for battle by the MacGregor. From atop the battlements, Thomas could see that the lad looked fiercely frightened. His eyes were rounded and he was sweating profusely. “Swing harder!” Dugald commanded as he threw another fierce blow. “Ye will die do ye fight like a wench in battle!” Thomas grew irritated with Dugald in an instant. This lad had been to the keep for scarcely a fortnight. Dugald knew better than to expect the lad to fight as a seasoned warrior in such a short amount of time. That would take years, not days. Thomas decided that he had watched enough. “Dugald!” he bellowed from atop the battlements. Dugald called a halt to the spar then turned around and looked up at him. “Aye?” “Ye will send the lad tae the hall for his supper and wait fer me in the lower bailey. I would speak with ye afore the evening meal.” Dugald scowled but relented, knowing he had no choice but to yield. “Aye, my lord.” A few minutes later, Thomas found Dugald pacing the lower bailey, his disposition as
  • 56. surly as ever. “So,” he demanded, still irritated by his commander-at-arms foolishness, “what in the bluidy hell was that aboot? What did ye think tae prove by beating up on a lad barely removed from his mother’s skirts?” Dugald stopped his pacing and confronted Thomas. “He wasn’t paying attention during instruction, my lord. I was seeing tae it that he would from now on.” Thomas knit his eyebrows together and glared at Dugald. “The lad looked like he was doing a fine job of guarding yer blows tae me. In order tae do so, he must ha’ been paying attention tae ye just fine. Mayhap ye should think up another lie tae tell me.” Dugald grimaced. Never in his life had the MacGregor accused him of lying. And the worst part of it was, he realized, what he spoke was nothing but the truth. He had picked a fight with the lad. And for no good reason. He sighed, averting his gaze to the ground. “I am sorry, Thomas. I will apologize tae the lad. I never would ha’ harmed him, though.” Thomas nodded with a grunt. “I believe ye, but I think ye better tell the lad that. He needs tae trust his betters or he willna trust us enough tae learn from us. Do ye ken?” “Aye.” “Good.” Dugald stood, silently watching the leaves on the ground scatter about. He knew the MacGregor was eyeing him, wondering what had happened to the control of his commander. Dugald said nothing and neither did Thomas. They both stood there, as silent as two monks who had taken their vows. At last, too weary to continue on under such close scrutiny, Dugald sighed and confessed all. “She ignores me, my lord.” Thomas’ eyebrows shot up, at first unable to catch his meaning. When finally he did, the laird’s lips curved into a grin and before long he was laughing so hard he could barely stand. “Ye needn’t laugh, Thomas. ‘Tis no’ that funny.” Dugald’s black look bordered on insolence, but instead of angering the laird as it should have, it made him bellow even harder. Thomas swiped at the tears in his eyes as he tried to regain his composure. He noticed at once that the men who were happening by, unaccustomed as they were to seeing the MacGregor smile let alone laugh, were throwing him concerned looks. ‘Twas as if they feared him daft. For some odd reason, that notion made Thomas laugh again. Ah, ‘twas the Lady Maya’s doing. She probably was making him daft. “I think it amusing indeed that only a fortnight ago this conversation was aboot my black mood instead of yer own. ‘Twas ye that was fancied by my scowls then, do ye no remember?” Dugald folded his arms across his chest as he prepared to concede the obvious. “Aye. By the saints, aye.” Thomas grinned. “It canna be so bad as that. Mayhap ye ha’ offended the lady or hurt her tender feelings. Mayhap ye should apologize.” Dugald frowned. “Ye are a fine one tae talk, Thomas. Ha’ ye apologized yet tae the Lady Maya for the scene ye forced us tae subject her tae yestereve?” Thomas’s superior grin vanished in an instant. He glowered at Dugald for reminding him of his own precarious position within his keep. Hell, Maya wasn’t speaking to him either. “That is different, Dugald,” he concluded with irritated conviction, “leastways, lairds dinna apologize. No’ even tae the woman they are tae wed.” Dugald snorted and slapped Thomas on the back. “Good luck in bringing our future mistress around tae seeing things yer way. I think yer bed will know many cold nights, my friend.” Now it was Dugald who was grinning and Thomas who was scowling. “I am glad tae see that ye are in a fine mood again Dugald, but no’ verra happy that ‘tis at my expense.” Dugald laughed. “’Tis no’ at yer expense, Thomas. I am merely placated by the fact that I
  • 57. am no longer the only one around here in a dark mood.” Thomas grunted. At least he had made somebody happy. ***** Maya and Sara sat next to each other at the table in the great hall, both of them feeling irritated. Maya was seated on Thomas’s left, Sara was seated at Maya’s left, and Dugald sat across the table from Sara at Thomas’s right. ‘Twas the most unhappy looking foursome that Argyle had beheld since…well…since ever. Sara was still angry at Dugald for failing to propose marriage to her and Maya was churning with anger over the events that had taken place in front of a goodly number of MacGregors the night prior. Sara had been in her bedchamber moping when the incident had occurred, so Maya was now explaining to her what had happened. She told the tale in Tampa English, all but daring Thomas to demand that she revert her speech to Gaelic. “I still cannot believe it, Sara. All I did was go for a walk around the grounds because I was curious as to what it looked like. I was going to ask you to come, but you didn’t appear to want company at the time. So I left by myself and strolled down to the village, introducing myself to the people there and whatnot.” “Really?” Sara perked up at that. “You should have invited me. I would like to go the next time.” Maya nodded. “It was very interesting. You would get a kick out of it. And the people were quite friendly. There was one man I met there named Hamish. He turned out to be the guy that fainted when we mysteriously materialized on the hillside. As it happens, he’s not a bad guy. He was embarrassed about his fainting, obviously, but I made him feel much better when I suggested that it probably happened due to the heat.” Sara arched one black brow. “But it was shivering cold when we got here.” Maya shrugged. “I know. I was just trying to spare his feelings. And it worked. He was satisfied with that explanation. At any rate, I am digressing… So there I am, chatting with the villagers and having a good ole time, when all of a sudden I hear the pounding of horse’s hooves coming from over the hill and into the valley.” Sara shook her head in disgust. She had a feeling that she knew where this tale was going and as pissed off as she currently was with the male species in general, she would no doubt cast as grave a light on Thomas’s actions as Maya had. “I look up and who do I see?” Maya waved her hands in the air in frustration, causing Thomas and Dugald to grumble. They had no idea what her words meant, but they had a feeling they weren’t kind. “I see Robin Hood and his Merry Jackasses riding toward me like ten men possessed!” Sara shook her head and shot a scathing look at Thomas and Dugald. The men frowned, their suspicions that Lady Maya was talking about last night’s events confirmed. “So I wave at Thomas, thinking he has come to join me,” Maya continued, spouting her Tampa English in a tone that suggested she was sorely unhappy. “I have this idiotic smile on my face the entire time, happy as I was to see him. He rides up, with Dugald and his men in tow, and begins shouting and cursing at me at the top of his lungs in front of half of the village!” Sara gasped. “He didn’t!” Maya shook her head emphatically. “Yes, he most certainly did.” She reached for her best friend’s comforting hand. “Oh Sara, I’ve never been more embarrassed. And from the way that he pulled me up onto his horse and shoved me in front of him, you would think I was an escaped prisoner instead of the woman who’s to be his wife!”
  • 58. Sara clucked her tongue. “That’s terrible. He should be ashamed of himself.” Maya snorted. “Yes he should, but he’s not. And the worst of it is, I still don’t know what it is that I supposedly did wrong!” Thomas stabbed a piece of pheasant and shoved it into his mouth with his dagger. ‘Twas plain to the eye that Maya still hadn’t forgiven him for embarrassing her last eve in front of the clansmen. He frowned, vexed beyond caring. What’s a little embarrassment when it was her life that was at stake? Of course, he had to remind himself, Maya didn’t know that her life was in danger. She wasn’t aware of Robert’s lust, nor of his desire to claim her. Until the man was found and killed, he wouldn’t let her go anywhere without him. Thomas sighed. The simple truth of it was that he couldn’t bear the thought of losing Maya when it had taken him thirty-five years to find her. Mayhap he should take his own advice and apologize to her, but it angered him to no end that it should be necessary to do so. Maya should always ask for permission afore she does anything, goes anywhere, speaks to anyone. She is his, he reasoned, and therefore his to command. Thomas peered at Maya as he stabbed a wedge of cheese with his dagger. By the saints, but he would give away a king’s ransom in gold to magically be able to understand Tampa English right now! ‘Twas obvious his lady was voicing displeasure with him to the Lady Sara. Mayhap he should force the friends apart for a sennight or so, leaving Maya no one to voice her dissatisfactions to except himself. He frowned. Nay, that ‘twould do no good and would only serve to set his lady further against him. This business of being an understanding man was exasperating. “Lady Maya, I would speak tae ye after the meal. We will take a walk together and ye will smile. I would see no more scowling this day.” Thomas inclined his head toward her, letting her know that the subject was not up for discussion. Apparently Maya didn’t agree. “Oh will we, mighty laird?” Thomas frowned at the inflection she had placed on the word mighty. Did he not know better, he would say the woman had scoffed him. “Aye. And furthermore, Lady Sara will speak tae Sir Dugald. No more tantrums will be abided in this keep.” Dugald grunted, obviously pleased by Thomas’s command. Sara scowled, obviously feeling just the opposite. Argyle cleared his throat, then flashed a smile at Maya, hoping to distract all involved parties. “Milady, ye are tae be wed on the morrow. Naught but happiness should ye feel this eve.” Maya glowered at Argyle, then stopped herself. After all, it wasn’t his fault that her soon-to-be husband was an arrogant, rotten tempered, tyrannical, bellowing autocrat. She wanted to tell Thomas to his face what she thought of him, but couldn’t for the life of herself figure out how to translate all of that into Gaelic. She flicked her gaze to her trencher, absently toying with her food. “That’s if I marry him,” she muttered to no one in particular. Maya looked up in surprise at the startled gasps that her words had caused. Thomas slammed his fist onto the table, inducing ale to splash over the sides of several tankards. “Ye go tae far!” he roared, a murderous expression in his eyes. No, Maya thought, she hadn’t. She had, however, had enough. She was going back to the twenty-first century if she had to wander the hillside until she was eighty-years-old waiting for the next set of black clouds to happen by. To hell with Thomas! To hell with Lady M and history! He had deserved that remark. She was tired of being constantly ordered about! Maya rose to her feet, picked up her skirts, and ran from the great hall, sprinting at top speed toward the castle doors. Once outside she hopped up onto the first horse she saw and
  • 59. turned him around to face the hillside in the distance. A storm was coming. Maybe it was just the storm she needed. “Maya!” Thomas howled as he opened the doors to the keep. “Ye will dismount this instant!” Her eyes rounded as she hesitated. But a moment later she shook her head in denial and dashed off into the night. She knew where she had to go—home. Forget what the historical accounts said, for history was about to change. She was sick and tired of being yelled at as if she were an errant child. She wasn’t going to stay here. The storm would come for her eventually and she would find her way back to the future. The fantasy of becoming Thomas’s wife was a heady one, but the reality was that she couldn’t suppress her nature enough to be the kind of woman he wanted her to be. Docile, compliant, subservient—she was none of those things and knew she never would be. As she rode atop the horse, Maya comforted herself with the hope that Thomas couldn’t possibly find her before the storm did. The land was too vast and he’d have no idea where to look first. By the time he did look to the hillside, the storm would have claimed her and she’d be in the twenty-first century sipping on a mocha cappuccino and reading the latest Dara Joy novel. She just wished that thought was as comforting as it should have been. “Please lady luck,” she whispered to the fates, not exactly certain what it was she was pleading for, “be on my side.” Chapter 14 Maya dismounted a few minutes later. She took a quick look around to be certain she was alone, then gave the horse a good swat on the backside to get him to run back towards the keep. She had learned the “swat the horse’s ass” move by watching an old rerun of Bonanza and was pleased as punch to see that it really worked. After all, she wouldn’t need a mount where she was going. Maya sat down on the ground and waited impatiently for the black clouds to come to her. She wanted to get on with this already, get the show on the road, so to speak. And she wanted it to happen before she had the time to think about it and change her mind. She looked around and frowned. The storm she had seen brewing just a few minutes prior appeared to be receding. So much for Lady Luck, she thought grimly. Maya raised her knees and circled her arms around them, huddling up to keep the chilly evening air from seeping into her bones. And then she thought about Thomas. Big mistake. She blew out a breath and cursed herself when she realized that she couldn’t keep the tears at bay. They fell and kept right on falling and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. “Why did ye run from me, lass?” Maya’s head flew up and her eyes rounded in surprise at the sound of Thomas’s voice. He didn’t sound angry or even frustrated, as she had expected he would if he found her. Damned if he didn’t sound…hurt. She shook her head, unwilling to succumb to the softer emotions. She needed to stay strong. She needed to go home. “It will never work between us, Thomas.” Thomas sighed as he dropped down to his knees to sit beside Maya. He took her hands in
  • 60. his and drew them to his lips for a kiss. “Don’t Thomas,” Maya pleaded in a whisper, unwilling to meet his gaze. “You are only making this harder.” Thomas chuckled as he put his arm around Maya and drew her into his side for warmth. “’Tis the point, love.” Maya inhaled his scent as he held her. She reached up and put her arms around his neck then promptly broke into a fit of sobs. She cried like a baby while he stroked and cooed to her, running his fingers through her hair. She was tired and overwhelmed and she had no idea what the right thing to do was. “It’s all right, love. I promise ye. It canna be so bad as that.” She allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of Thomas’s warmth and strength for a few more minutes then gathered her resolve and lifted herself to her feet. He stood when she did, but made no move to hold her. ‘Twas obvious that something quite serious was troubling her and he wanted to give her the space to say it. “Thomas, I must go home. I cannot stay here.” “Maya, if this is aboot last eve, I would explain…” “No.” Maya shook her head. “Last night is just one more example as to why I must go home.” Thomas furrowed his brow, not sure that he was following the logic in this conversation. “I dinna ken. I do no’ beat ye, I will always be faithful tae ye, I would never let another do harm tae ye, I would give ye anything do ye ask it. What more can I do, Maya?” She sighed. The fact that he highlighted her lack of beatings was a pointed reminder of the savage world she found herself in. “I don’t know how to make you understand, Thomas.” “Try, love.” Maya threaded her fingers through her hair as she began pacing in a circle. She came to an abrupt halt and faced him once more. “Where I come from, women are more important than they are here.” “Maya, ye know ye are important tae me, I –” She held up a palm. “That’s not what I mean, Thomas. I mean that in my clan women can do all that men can do.” She ignored his disbelieving grunt and continued. “There are women in my clan who are great healers, women who are great philosophers, and even women who are great warriors.” Maya had to grin at the incredulous expression on his face. “It’s true, Thomas. In fact, in my clan Lady Sara and myself are considered by all and sundry to be two of the most esteemed philosophers in the world.” Thomas scowled. “Even if this is so, what has this tae do with us?” Maya took a calming breath, determined that the last conversation she would ever have with him would not end in an argument. “Women who are great at something are used to giving orders, not taking them. We find extreme displeasure at being ordered about as if we were feeble minded idiots.” Ah, Thomas thought, at last he could see where this conversation was going. “Maya,” he began, certain that he would have this problem solved in the blink of an eye, “I will endeavor tae be more thoughtful of yer feelings in the future do ye wish it, yet do I no’ approve of ye spinning such wild tales in order tae impress the importance of yer feelings upon me. I am a reasonable mon. I…” That did it. “Reasonable? You call yourself reasonable? You humiliated me last night in front of half of the clan, you have forbade me to speak in my own tongue, you have ordered me about for
  • 61. days now as if I didn’t have a mind of my own…” Maya stomped her foot on the ground as her agitation overwhelmed her. “You call that reasonable?” “And further more,” she hissed when she saw that Thomas was about to speak, “I am not a liar. And I highly resent you calling me one!” It was Thomas’s turn to show his own agitation. His nostrils flared as he grabbed Maya by the arms and turned his black gaze down to her. “Ye do lie and well ye know it! Women are no’ warriors and philosophers, Maya. What kind of fool do ye think me?” Maya shrugged away from Thomas and strode from him. He stalked after her and whirled her around to face him. “I am not a liar! Where I come from, women are all of those things and more!” “Then I surrender, Lady Maya, fer I ha’ never heard of such a land as this! ‘Tis no’ of another country do ye speak but another world entirely!” “Exactly!” Maya shouted, “and I am going home to it!” A predatory urgency swept over Thomas as he hauled Maya closer to his body. Through set teeth he issued his warning. “Ye will never leave me, Maya. I will no’ allow it. If ye escape me, I will find ye. Dinna doubt it.” Maya laughed humorlessly as she pulled away from Thomas. “You would have a lengthy voyage indeed, trying to find me!” “Then so be it!” he roared as he clutched Maya’s shoulders and shook them. “Do I need tae sail the oceans tae find ye, I will do it! If it takes months I willna care! If it takes years, I willna care!” “Try seven hundred years!” Maya spat out before she was calm enough to think better of it. She sobered immediately, aware of the fact that she had said too much. If he had thought her a liar before, he would think her a madwoman now. “What are ye saying?” Thomas bellowed as he released Maya’s shoulders and forced her chin up to meet his gaze. Maya pushed away from him and took a deep breath. It was too late to turn back now. She might as well tell him all, let him leave her because he thinks she’s insane, then wait for the clouds to take her home. Her words were steady, her voice controlled. “I’m saying that it’s not just another land I am from, but another time as well. I am saying I am from the future, Thomas. I am saying that by forces I do not understand, Sara and myself were swept back seven hundred years into the past to bring us here, to your time. I am saying…” She took a calming breath and shook her head. “What does it matter what I say when you will not believe me anyway.” Thomas stared in silence at Maya for what felt to both of them to be an eternity. He didn’t dare believe the tale she was spinning, yet something deep inside of him told him she was, in fact, telling the truth. Or at least what she believed to be the truth. He thought about the strange clothing she had been wearing the day he found her on the hillside. He had never told Maya about it, but he had kept the garments and examined them after they were removed from her chamber. An odd mechanism he had never seen the likes of was used to open and close the garment. ‘Twas made of a thin metal and of parts too small to have been pounded out by a blacksmith. And then there was the odd shoes she sported – ‘twas as if they had been fitted perfectly to her feet. There was a shoe made for Maya’s left foot as well as her right, instead of a normal shoe that could fit either foot. And then there were those odd spikes that jutted outward at the bottoms. Nay, he had never seen the likes of them or the fine quality of them afore. And then, of course, there was the manner in which she had appeared on the hillside in the first. ‘Twas as if she had materialized from the winds. He could not put it to witchcraft for
  • 62. Maya was too kind to be the devil’s own kin. At least to anyone but him! “From what year?” he heard himself ask. Maya glanced up at him dumbfounded, as if she hadn’t expected him to give her even the slightest benefit of the doubt. “2001,” she heard herself whisper in reply. Thomas nodded. For some reason he couldn’t name, Maya being a philosopher from the future was easier to believe than Maya being a philosopher from his own time that happened to live in a distant land. “And in 2001, ye are a learned woman?” Maya stared into his eyes, not certain as to whether or not he believed her and not certain as to whether or not she wanted him to. “Yes. Both Sara and myself are philosophers of sorts. We are teachers at a university. Our profession is called anthropology.” At his questioningly raised brow, she continued. “An anthropologist is a person of science who devotes their life to studying people who have been dead for hundreds, thousands, even millions of years. “It is rather difficult to explain, but basically what I do is dig into the earth, collect old bones, pottery, and jewels, and lecture at the university about what I have learned from them. When I learn enough, I write it down, it is made into a book, and all of the world learns from it.” Thomas said nothing, so Maya trooped onward. “At the time in my life when the black clouds came and Sara and I were swept up into them, we had been studying…well, you and your clan to be precise. Some scientists in Glasgow found papers that had been written by you and others written by scribes concerning you, your clan, your wife, your…” “My wife?” Thomas interrupted, as he put his handson his hips and watched her. “Well yes,” Maya confirmed with a blush warming her cheeks. “The old documents, documents you have not yet written mind you, referred to her as Lady M. The papers said that when you first found her, you thought her to be cursed, to be a…” She coughed discreetly, “demon wench.” Thomas grunted as he folded his arms across his chest. He had thought Maya a demon wench when first he had seen her. She chuckled from the irony of it all. “What I find funny is that I spent two days reading everything I could find about this mysterious Lady M in the hopes of finding out what was meant by this demon wench business.” She waved an impatient hand at Thomas as she tried to explain. “Sara and I thought maybe the demon wenches were symbolic, you know, like how there will be words that mean something else in the poetry you read.” At Thomas’s nod of understanding, she continued. “I mean, I found it difficult to believe that this demon wench thing could be taken as the literal truth. Imagine my surprise when I’m at a celebration that requires the wearing of costumes and find myself moments later surrounded by men with raised swords shouting at me that I’m a demon wench.” She shook her head and sighed. “’It wasn’t pleasant, I assure you.” Thomas, however, was delighted with this turn of events. “But canna ye see, love? If what ye say is how it ‘twas or how it is tae be, then that means that ye were supposed tae come tae me. Ye are supposed tae be my wife.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Ye canna tempt the fates, Lady Maya.” He emphasized his conviction that he was right and she was wrong to flee from him with a jerked nod of his head. Maya grinned at him, amazed that he seemed to be taking her tale a hell of a lot better than she would have had the situation been reversed. She cocked her head and studied his features. Her coy grin was quickly replaced by a serious visage. “You really believe me, don’t you Thomas?” He was silent for a long moment while he debated with himself over what he believed. Finally he said, “Aye. The saints preserve me, but I do believe ye.”
  • 63. Amazed and humbled by the gift of trust Thomas had just given her, Maya flew into his arms and clung tightly to his chest. “I love you, Thomas. God how I love you! If I wasn’t certain before tonight, I know it now.” Shocked but pleased by her confession, he drew her chin up to look at him. His eyes searched hers. “The other night ye asked me fer a vow and I gave it tae ye willingly. Now I must ask one of ye.” “Yes?” “Dinna ever leave me, Maya. Vow it and vow it now.” Her eyes rounded. She knew that if she gave her word she would have to honor it. There would be no going back. After a long moment, she bit her lip and nodded in acquiescence. “I promise.” Thomas grunted something imperceptible as he picked Maya up and gathered her into his arms. He kissed her roughly on the mouth, his tongue sweeping between her parted lips to lay claim. Maya kissed him back with the powerful, primitive need that only Thomas could make her feel. “Dinna run from me again, love,” he rasped against her lips, “I canna bear it.” They kissed for endless moments, relishing the taste and feel of each other. When she could bear no more, Maya reached down between their bodies and rubbed her hand across the material covering his erection. At his intake of breath, she took the touch further by reaching underneath his plaid and drawing his hard manhood into her palm. She stroked his shaft firmly but gently in an up and down motion. Thomas sucked in his breath again as he lowered their bodies to the ground. “I need ye, Maya mine,” he muttered against her mouth. “I canna bear the thought of a life without ye in it.” Thomas continued to kiss her mouth and throat as he quickly fumbled with the ties of her gown to release her from it. Frustrated by an overpowering need to claim her, he reached for Maya’s dress and in one fell swoop, tore it from her breasts all the way to the waist. Maya gasped as the cold air hit her bosom, turning her nipples into the hardened points that Thomas loved to suck on. She dug her fingernails into his back and arched her body against his when he bent his head to claim a nipple. He secured a breast in each of his large hands then took turns sucking on each one as a guttural sound ripped from his throat. She forced Thomas’s mouth down on her breasts, wanting him to clamp down and suck even harder. Moaning, she threw her head back and enjoyed the feeling. Thomas groaned like a man possessed as he lifted Maya’s skirts to take her. He threw his plaid to the ground as he forced her legs apart with his knee. He spread her legs wide and nestled between them. “Ye are mine,” he murmured. “Now and forever. Ye are mine.” He looked into her eyes and surged inside of her with one powerful thrust. Maya gasped as tears stung her eyes. She knew he was made bigger than most men, but nothing could have prepared her for the thick cock that had invaded her body. Instinctively, Thomas grew still to give Maya time to adjust to his girth. He grabbed two handfuls of flaxen hair and looked possessively into her eyes. “Ye belong tae me now, Maya mine. I would kill a mon fer even darin’ tae look at ye longer than he should. Do ye ken?” His words were deep and forceful, his eyes glowing with black warning. Maya rubbed her hands across Thomas’s chest, stroking his nipples and playing with the dark hair that covered them. Her voice was sultry and seductive. “Yes. Now prove to me that you need me. Make love to me right now.” With a low growl he plunged into the depths of Maya’s body once more. She moaned in pleasure as she wrapped her legs around his hips and held on to him for a hard ride. Thomas pumped her tight flesh in long, violent thrusts, taking her to a plateau of ecstasy she hadn’t
  • 64. thought possible. His nostrils flared, his muscles corded and bunched, as he continued to stroke in and out of her. She writhed in his arms, arching into him as she surrendered to the fierce contractions of her orgasm. Thomas rode her body faster and faster, pumping his shaft into her sticky heat all the way down to the thick root, then out to the tip, over and over again until his body screamed for release. He gripped Maya’s hips and surged into her barbarically, pummeling her harder and deeper until he could endure no more. Throwing his head back, he shouted out her name as he poured himself into her womb. Perspiring despite the frigid night air, Thomas slumped his body over hers while he gathered his strength and steadied his breathing. He let himself bask in the sensuous feeling of having Maya’s caressing hands rub all over his backside. Never before had a woman robbed him of all of his control. Never before had a woman left him so sated after coupling that he didn’t think he had the strength to take her again should she desire it. Thomas rolled off of Maya and drew her into his arms, laying her head on his chest. He stroked her bottom as he thought about how scared he had felt at the thought of her leaving him to go back to a world he knew nothing of. On the morrow, he reminded himself, she would be his by law. A man can’t count on much where a woman as spirited as Maya is concerned, but he knew he could count on her wedding vows. Thomas sucked in his breath when she began to stroke his semi-flaccid flesh into unyielding hardness once more. He chuckled when he realized that he had been wrong on one score. He could get it up again. He rolled back on top of his lady and proved it to both of them. Chapter 15 “I still can’t believe that you told him.” Sara paced the length of Maya’s bedchamber while Maya sat cross-legged on the bed and watched her. Maya had awoken this morning to the sound of Sara pounding on her door. Sara had been relieved to find her best friend alive and in one piece, as she had been certain that Thomas was going to beat her when he found her last evening. Sara had described the laird’s mood while waiting on his mount to be readied as “volatile”. Her dread over what had become of Maya was quickly replaced by the desire to throttle her herself. “What were you thinking? This cannot be a good development! What if he tells Dugald?” Maya shrugged. “If he does, we’ll deal with it, but I doubt he’ll say anything just yet. We talked about it a little on the ride home last night and, although he has some questions about the future, he agreed to set it aside until after the wedding.” Maya’s wedding was to take place in a few hours outside of the chapel on MacGregor lands. She had half expected to wake up a cluster of tattered nerves, but to her surprise and relief, she felt calm and sure of her decision to marry Thomas. Argyle had brought her up a tray of food not long after Sara had began pounding on her chamber door and as she flicked her eyes toward the assortment of breads, fruit, and cheeses sitting on the table nearest the bed, she realized she was painfully hungry. “So Sara,” Maya grinned as she picked up a piece of bread and tore it into two halves, “what did happen with Sir Dugald yesterday after I had my tantrum and stomped off?” Sara’s surly disposition immediately took a turn for the better as a serene smile enveloped her face. “He forced me to talk to him, which eventually I did. We talked about many things,
  • 65. but to answer the question foremost in your mind, he promised that the only reason he had not yet asked me to marry him was out of respect for Thomas. He said that you and the laird needed to be given the respect of having this week belong only to the two of you. He swore that he was going to ask me right after the wedding.” Maya beamed wickedly at Sara. “I agree wholeheartedly about this whole respect thing. In fact, when I’m officially the lady around here, I think I want you to bow to me every time I walk into a room you’re in.” At Sara’s raised middle finger, Maya fell back onto the bed and laughed. Sara grinned and sat down next to Maya. She became momentarily distracted by Fred, who was laying as contented as a king under Maya’s covers. She nudged her best friend on the knee. “What are you going to do with Fred? You know Thomas isn’t going to share a bed with him.” Maya got her giggles under control, wiped the tears from her eyes, and answered Sara. “The elder John had one of the men in the village build him a bed. Actually, he’s building one for Barney too. He said they will be delivered later today as a wedding present.” Sara nodded. She ran her fingers through her hair in agitation and sighed. “Are you certain he believes you?” Maya narrowed her eyes, having forgotten for a moment that this conversation was originally about her having divulged their twenty-first century origins to Thomas. “Yes, quite certain. Believe me, Thomas never hesitates to call me on anything. If he didn’t believe me, I’d no doubt be sporting a sore ass this morning. The man has this thing about spankings.” She frowned and shook her head. Sara laughed. “I guess it makes sense though.” “What does?” “That he would believe you. I mean, this is medieval Scotland. People still believe in the power of forces unseen. Not at all like the people of our day, you know.” Maya nodded. “I suppose in this situation that happens to be a good thing. If someone had tried to sell me this story, my twenty-first century bred mind never would have bought it.” Sara shook her head. “Nor would have mine.” The conversation was brought to a halt by a knock at the door. Maya sat up and pulled the covers up to her chin. “Come in.” A moment later, Lena came bounding into the room exuding enough excitement to make Maya and Sara grin. “Are ye ready for yer bath tae be brought up, milady?” “Certainly. I guess we better get the show on the road, eh Lena?” At Lena’s wrinkled brow, Maya corrected herself. “That is to say, we had better begin preparing for the wedding.” Lena nodded her head up and down emphatically then walked back over to the door. She opened it wide and yelled a command down to Argyle to see to his lady’s bath. “Lady Sara, yer lady’s maid is waiting for ye in yon chamber. Ye best get ready yerself,” Lena chided as she skipped back into the room. Sara smiled and saluted her, causing another curious look to smother Lena’s face. “Aye, aye Commander Lena,” Sara teased as she patted the girl on the head and strode toward the chamber door. Sara turned around and blew Maya a kiss. Maya pretended to catch it. Sara laughed and left the room, closing the door softly behind her. A moment later Argyle came in carrying Maya’s tub with two other soldiers. “Be careful, “Lena lectured him in a warning tone, “ye are spilling water on milady’s floor.” Argyle put the tub down in front of the hearth, shooed the other soldiers from the room,
  • 66. and turned to confront Lena. “I think ye are quite the harridan, Lena.” Lena wrinkled her nose and drew herself up to her full height. “I think somebody needs correct yer careless behavior, Argyle. Ye leave much work fer the lower servants tae clean up.” Maya grinned from her bed as the twosome exchanged heated words for another minute or so. It was apparent to her that they liked each other, but weren’t quite ready to admit to it yet. Argyle raised his voice, inducing Maya to widen her eyes in surprise. Never before had she heard him so angry. “Ye may be the highest of maidens around here because ye are cousin tae the MacGregor and because ye serve only milady, but ye are still just Lena tae me! Ye would do well tae remember that afore I put ye o’er my knee!” Lena assumed the haughty stance that Maya often did when offended. “Leave us Argyle, afore ye cause milady tae be late tae the church doors. The MacGregor will no’ be verra pleased with ye.” Argyle turned red in the face, bowed to Maya, and headed for the door. “Beg pardon, milady. I am sorry fer the scene ye were forced tae witness.” He left without waiting for a reply. Lena shook her head and huffed towards the bed. “I apologize, Lady Maya. Argyle does no’ take tae instruction o’er well. He will learn in time.” Lena seemed so sure of that fact that Maya had to grin again. “Tell me Lena, do you…um…”—she cleared her throat—“fancy Argyle?” Lena’s face turned as pale as the bed sheets. “By the saints nay! I could never love such an overbearing mon as Argyle!” An half of an hour later, Maya scrubbed her body in the tub while Lena washed her hair, still ranting and raving over all of the reasons she could never love Argyle. Judging from Lena’s rather exhaustive list, it was evident to Maya that this young soldier was just the man for her lady’s maid. “…and ha’ I yet mentioned his arrogance, milady?” “About five times.” “Aye, well, he’s bluidy arrogant – tries tae gainsay me at every turn.” “Don’t forget his temper.” “Dreadful temper, tae be sure.” Maya winced as Lena began pulling her hair by the root while washing it. Her maid was getting a little too carried away in her impassioned denial of her love for Argyle and damn near ripping out Maya’s hair in the process. “…and let us no’ forget that he can be depressing tae the spirits at times, milady. Argyle is quite the voice of gloom and doom.” Maya nodded. On that score, she could agree with her. “And his stubbornness,”—Lena shook her head with a sarcastic laugh—“damned obstinate.” “Uh Lena,” Maya pleaded, “do you think you might not pull at my hair quite so hard, sweetcakes?” Lena released Maya’s hair at once, her face growing as red as the embers in the hearth. “Oh milady, pray forgive me. I dinna mean…that is tae say…” “Do not fret over it, Lena,” Maya quickly reassured her with a chuckle. “I understand what love can do to a girl.” Lena wrinkled her nose and shook her head in dismay. “’Tis that obvious milady?” Maya grinned. “Only to another woman. I’m certain your secret will be safe from Argyle until you’re ready for him to know.” Lena rinsed the soap from Maya’s hair then helped her from the bathtub. She guided her
  • 67. to a chair near the hearth and began brushing out her mistress’s long mane of golden curls. The blissful feeling of the comb scraping against her scalp combined with the sedate heat from the fire almost lulled Maya back to sleep. She closed her eyes and smiled serenely as Lena worked her magic. “How did ye ken that the MacGregor loved ye?” Lena quietly asked as she continued to work the comb through Maya’s long hair. Maya smiled without opening her eyes. She chuckled when she thought of the comparison between her and Thomas and Lena and Argyle. “He always wanted to spank me.” ***** Two hours later, Maya was a bundle of raw nerves. She paced the length of her bedchamber floor, waiting for Sir Dugald to arrive and escort her to the chapel. Since Maya had no family to speak of here, it had been decided by Thomas that Dugald should have the honor of giving her away. “Jesus, Maya, will you stop the pacing!” Sara complained. “You’re starting to make me as nervous as you are.” Maya halted abruptly and turned to face her. “I’m sorry. Do I look okay?” Sara smiled, her unflappable calmness smoothly back in place. “Maya darling, you look more beautiful than I thought it possible for a bride to look.” “I wouldn’t go that far.” “I would, Maya. You look…breathtaking.” And she did. Her gown was made of a fine silk that flowed to the length of the floor. Lena had hand-stitched dozens of tiny gems and delicate silk flowers into the intricate green velvet bodice. Maya’s hair was left unbound, as was Thomas’s preference, but was swept up on the sides and secured with the same tiny silk flowers and brocaded gold that Lena had woven into the dress. She looked like a medieval princess. A knock sounded on the chamber door causing Maya’s heart to race rapidly. She looked at Sara and at Sara’s excited nod she took a deep breath and bade Sir Dugald to come inside. He appeared moments later wearing his best plaid and held out his hand to Maya. “By the saints, milady. Thomas will fall on his arse when he sees ye looking so lovely!” Sara laughed at Maya’s blush. She walked over to where Maya stood and kissed her best friend on the cheek. Unshed tears glistened in her eyes and it was all that Maya could do after seeing them to keep from crying herself. “I love you.” “I love you too, Sara.” “Go get married.” “If you insist.” Chapter 16 Thomas stood at the chapel doors next to Father Ryan and took a deep, calming breath. He knew he wasn’t going to feel safe until he saw Maya dismount with Dugald and walk to his side. He had barely slept the eve prior, so worried he was that his lady would try to run from him in the night to go back to this future she had spoken of. He had posted guards at her door to make certain that she didn’t leave him, yet still he hadn’t been able to sleep.
  • 68. Soon, in less than an hour’s time, Maya would be his to command by law. Until then…he sighed. He simply couldn’t relax. A young lad ran up from the back of the chapel and announced to Father Ryan that Lady Maya and Sir Dugald had arrived and were making their way to the front. Thomas blew out a breath. He was one step closer to claiming his love. Father Ryan ordered all present to stand in silence, thereby showing deference to the new Lady MacGregor as she made her walk toward the chapel doors to greet her new lord and master. Thomas looked around at the multitude of guests that were even now quieting down and he felt himself tense up again. From the dozens of MacGregor soldiers, to the village elders, to three neighboring clan lairds who had ridden to the keep to witness the joyous occasion, all were waiting impatiently to catch a glimpse of Lady Maya, most of them for the first time. The only of his friends who couldn’t be there was the Hamilton who was distracted with the need to suppress another uprising of the Kirkpatricks. When at last Maya appeared at the mouth of the crowd with Dugald at her side, gasps of excitement and awe rose up from the gathering. Thomas gazed at his bride with an expression that revealed nothing as she made her way through the parted crowd and toward the chapel doors. But by the saints, she was the loveliest woman in all of Scotland! The most welcoming smile Thomas had ever seen enveloped Maya’s face. Although his eyes didn’t betray his feelings, his heart had never felt more proud and at peace. ‘Twas hard to believe that a woman born to the world nigh seven hundred years after his death, was the only woman who could bring to him life. A primitive feeling of male possessiveness swept over Thomas like a raging tide. She was his. His. Maya heard the excited intakes of breath all around her, but she had eyes only for Thomas. He looked larger than life and handsome as a devil in his finery. His face gave no hints as to how he was feeling, but she had learned to read his eyes. She saw love and fulfillment in their dark depths and the realization of it made her heart rate quicken. Although he’d never actually voiced the words, she knew at that moment that his love for her was real. Maya had never felt luckier. He was hers. Hers. Dugald guided Maya to Thomas’s side in front of the chapel proper then left them with a formal bow. The guests filed in around the couple, all anxious to see the laird and lady take their vows. Maya smiled up to Thomas’s imposing figure as he winked down at her smaller one. He removed the plaid at his shoulder that had been held in place by a brooch and handed it to Father Ryan. The priest smiled down at Lady Maya, placed her hand atop the laird’s, and circled the plaid around their union. Maya took a deep breath. This was it. Her destiny. Father Ryan sealed her fate. ***** The reception was a lively affair that was attended by all the higher ranking of the MacGregor clan and a goodly number of higher-ranking people from three neighboring clans that were allied to Thomas as well. Maya had endured more well-wishing in the past hour than she had been obliged to endure for her entire life up until this point. She was placed next to her husband in the great hall at the raised table of honor. Sara was seated to her left and Dugald was at Thomas’s right.
  • 69. Maya looked over at her husband and smiled. She had never seen him in such an overtly jovial mood and it moved her deeply to witness it. He was quick to smile, quick to laugh, and even quick to jest. Marriage was going to do this overly serious man a world of good. The hall looked fabulous. The servants had certainly done a commendable job of readying it for so many guests. The noise in the hall was boisterous and happy and it brought a contented smile to her lips. Sara nudged Maya in the arm and grinned. “Here he comes.” Maya looked around in confusion, then settled her questioning gaze back on Sara. “Who?” “Harold the Sotted. I was introduced to him before the ceremony. It looks like he’s getting ready to sing a ballad to you.” Maya chuckled. “It looks like he’s downing another gallon of ale before his performance.” She rolled her eyes. “I can’t wait to hear what kind of a ballad he has concocted.” Thomas placed his hand over his wife’s, drawing Maya’s attention toward him. “Harold the Sotted will sing fer us now, love. I hope his musings are tae yer liking.” Maya grinned. “I’m sure they will be. I’m anxious to hear him.” Harold the Sotted was appropriately named, Maya decided. He was an older man with a slurred smile, a slightly distended potbelly, and eyes that carried the glazed over look of a man who thoroughly enjoyed his ale. Harold staggered over to stand before the Laird and Lady MacGregor, cleared his throat, and began strumming his harp. As his song began, Maya and Sara looked at each other and giggled. It appeared that the ballad was to be sung, strangely enough, to a tune that sounded dangerously close to the theme song from Gilligan’s Island.. It was all Maya and Sara could do to keep from falling off their chairs with laughter. Just sit right back and enjoy this tale, a tale of a comely bride She’s as beautiful as an angel…and boasts a lovely hide. She doth boast a lovely hide. The men in the hall cheered. Maya frowned. Not only were medieval wedding receptions even bawdier than she had imagined, but it became quickly apparent to her who the author of that ridiculous prose that had been written about her in the ancient documents was. Great, she scowled, her legacy had been committed to history by a drunken pervert. By verse four of Harold the Sotted’s Gilligan’s Island parody, Maya was reaching for her third cup of ale. She didn’t think her face had ever been redder than it was right now. The laird hath never loved afore His heart an empty pod Then he took one look at his lady And wanted her on his rod. He did want her on his rod. The great hall boomed with laughter. Cheers went up from the MacGregor soldiers. Thomas roared in merriment. Dugald raised his tankard in salute to Harold the Sotted. Sara fanned her glowing cheeks. Maya seethed in mortification. By verse ten, Maya was praying that the gods would strike her dead on the spot. Laird Thomas is a man most hard Lady Maya is so soft Tonight he’ll ride a’tween her legs Like a horseman o’er the croft.
  • 70. Like a horseman o’er the croft. Maya sighed. This was going to be the longest night of her life. ***** Maya sat upright in Thomas’s bed. Lena had just finished preparing her for the consummation of her vows and had left as quickly as she had entered. Any moment now, Thomas would be carried up the stairs by his overzealous soldiers and dropped onto their marriage bed. Maya was dressed in nothing but a thin chemise that clung to her body like lingerie. There was a chill in the autumn air that hardened her nipples and turned her arms to gooseflesh. She drew an animal pelt up to her chin to drown herself in its warmth. Maya sighed as she snuggled into it, then reflected on the day’s events. Her wedding day had started out so wonderfully, she mused. Thomas had looked ruggedly handsome in his finest tunic and plaid and had spoken his vows with such conviction that she knew he would always keep them. He was, if nothing else, an honorable man. Nothing at all like Nick. Even the reception had been beyond anything. If she was honest with herself, she had to admit that it had been a great time. Still, she would have had a much better time if Thomas hadn’t cut her off from the supply of ale. “Nay love,” he had chastised as he removed her fifth cup of ale from in front of her, “I would ha’ ye tae remember this night well, ye ken?” That was three hours ago. The feast came next, during which time Maya had enjoyed herself immensely. Unfortunately, after the feast, the MacGregor men coaxed Harold the Sotted into singing again, causing no end to her blushes. Rather than sympathizing with her plight, Thomas laughed when he saw how thoroughly embarrassed his bride was. That only made her frown. And her husband wouldn’t even let her drink. “Ye willna take tae the cups, Maya. Ye may be carrying my bairn already.” That reminder had brought an end to Maya’s pleading, but she had been disgruntled nonetheless. After all, he certainly hadn’t stopped drinking. She knew he wasn’t in the least bit intoxicated, but still… The laughter and singing of inebriated soldiers drew Maya’s attention away from her thoughts and toward the door of Thomas’s, and now her, bedchamber door. She frowned. Maya could hear them waxing sentimental over one of Harold the Sotted’s “love ballads”. And to think that young Lena couldn’t wait to have that dratted man sing in her honor. Maya tssked to herself as she shook her head. Medieval girls had a strange notion of romance. Tonight he’ll ride a’tween her legs Like a horseman o’er the croft. Like a horseman o’er the croft. Maya scowled at the door. Would the MacGregor men never get enough of that ridiculous song? A moment later the door to the bedchamber flew open and Thomas was hoisted inside by his men. It took five soldiers to carry him and Maya spotted Sir Dugald and Argyle right away. Thomas was deposited onto their marriage bed and the soldiers made their exit as quickly as they had entered. Dugald looked back at the couple briefly, winked at Maya, and sauntered out. Thomas grinned when he saw the vexed look written all over her face. “Och lass, but I promise ye that ye willna ha’ tae hear those songs again. ‘Tis only at a wedding where a mon can get away with singing ballads like that.” Maya relented, realizing that nothing so bad happened that should warrant ruining her
  • 71. wedding night over. “That does make me feel better, knowing that he won’t be singing for me again.” Thomas shook his head. “I dinna say he willna sing for ye again, love. I said he willna sing songs of such an intimate nature of ye again, ye ken?” Maya nodded. “Alright sweetcakes, I can accept that. So long as none of his future ballads have anything to do with arses, breasts, and riding a’tween my thighs.” Thomas chuckled. “Ye will hear it again only during wedding receptions, but no’ of ye. Dugald tells me he’s tae take the Lady Sara tae wife. Harold the Sotted will sing fer her as well.” Maya smiled wickedly. It should prove interesting to see just how unflappable Sara the Serene would remain at her wedding reception. Thomas stretched out beside Maya on the bed and drew her into his arms. She sighed and snuggled into his warmth. He kissed his wife on the forehead and looked into her eyes. “Did I tell ye how comely ye looked today, Maya mine?” She smiled. “No, but your eyes did.” Thomas searched her expression for an answer. When none was revealed to him, he asked, “my eyes?” “Yes, Thomas, your eyes. I’ve learned to read those chocolate brown beauties to judge your thoughts. Quite well, I might add.” “Chocolate brown?” “Yes, chocolate. Where I come from chocolate is the tastiest of all sweet confections.” Thomas grinned bemusedly at his wife. He gathered her closer to him, reached under the animal pelts, and stroked her thigh. “Can ye tell what my eyes are wantin’ now, lass?” he whispered thickly. Maya grew immediately aroused, both from his words and from the hard protrusion she felt jutting beneath his kilt. “Hmm,” she teased as she reached up and nipped Thomas’s ear with her teeth. “That you want to ride a’tween my legs like a horseman o’er the croft?” Thomas threw his head back and laughed. “Aye.” He lowered the animal pelts to reveal his wife’s awaiting body. He inhaled deeply at the sight of her nipples, hard and aroused beneath her chemise. “I will no’ ever grow tired of sucking on these.” He stroked them softly, then dipped his head to tease a nipple through the sheer fabric. An overwhelming wave of desire washed over Maya. She sat up in bed, drew the chemise over her head, and discarded it to the floor. Thomas purred his delight as he forced his wife’s body beneath his own, then trailed his kisses back down to her breasts. He brought one ripe nipple up to his lips and drew it in between his teeth. Maya sucked in her breath as the pleasure cascaded over her. Thomas suckled from his wife’s bosom until her moans left him aching with need. He lifted his head from her nipples and sat up to shed his clothes. Maya helped him along in the process, unsure as to how much longer she could bear not having her husband buried deep inside of her. “I need you Thomas,” she whispered. “Take me now.” Thomas groaned at his wife’s words and laid back down on top of her. Never before had a woman made him feel so desired. “I will take ye more times tonight than ye can count, wife. I will take ye now and fer the rest of our lives.” And then he proved the truth to his words, as he surged into her body over and over, again and again. She clung to him tightly, her legs wrapped around his waist, her moans echoing throughout the dimly lit chamber as he pumped in and out of her. “Thomas. Oh god yes. Harder.”
  • 72. “Ye want it harder, do ye now?” he gritted out. Raising her hips, he rammed into her flesh in long, deep strokes. She closed her eyes and groaned, loving the feel of each thrust. “Is this how ye want it?” he asked arrogantly, pumping faster, thrusting harder. “Yes. Oh god yes.” He reached for one of her legs, threw it over his shoulder, and rammed faster. “And this?” “Oh my god.” Maya threw her head back on a groan and climaxed convulsively. “All mine,” he growled. Thomas held back his climax, not wanting the feeling to ever end. He pounded into her slick flesh over and over as he closed his eyes and gave himself over to the sensation of pumping into her. She was so wet that every time he stroked into her, the sound of her flesh slurping up his cock echoed in the bedchamber. It wasn’t long before he could hold back no more and with one final thrust, his entire body convulsed as he spurted himself deep inside of her. Thomas fell onto his back, taking his wife with him. Stroking the intimate cleft between her buttocks, he held her tightly in silence. After a long while, Maya drew her head up from his chest and gazed up at him, a teasing light in her eyes. “What are ye thinkin’?” he murmured. “That I want to do it again.” “Aye? Already?” “Mmm. You said you were going to take me over and over tonight…and then again for the rest of our lives.” In less than a second she was flat on her back and he was settling his hard erection between her thighs. “Oh and I will. Ye best believe it.” Maya grinned. “According to the history books we live well into old age. Think you can keep it hard that long?” “Fer ye, lass? It willna be a problem.” Chapter 17 For the next few weeks, Maya managed to avoid the subject of where she and Sara had come from altogether. Thomas brought it up only a few times, but didn’t press the issue when she said that it was too painful to talk about and that she needed time for the memories to fade. Thomas could understand that. His wife had been forced to leave everything she knew behind, save her best friend and pet. Still, he couldn’t be sorry for it and wouldn’t change that fact even if he was. To change it would be to lose his Maya, and that was something he wouldn’t abide. Maya brought out a side of Thomas that he hadn’t been aware he possessed until she appeared, literally, into his life. She brought him a contentment and a lightheartedness that he was glad for. For the most part, Thomas never revealed this side of himself to anyone but his wife. Although Dugald did say a few times that the Lady Sara had remarked on how much happier the laird seemed. Hopefully ‘twas only a change women would notice, he mused, for he wouldn’t want his men to think him soft. For all that Maya had given him, Thomas felt that he owed her the time she sorely needed to let the memories of her old life fade from a feeling of mournful loss to apathy. So ‘twas quite
  • 73. unexpected when his lady wife began speaking of the future on her own. Of course, ‘twas due to the sadness of Lady Sara that Maya finally revealed more of it. “It’s not that she doesn’t love you, Dugald, it’s just that she’s a little nervous with the wedding coming up and what have you.” Maya reassured the commander-at-arms of his betrothed’s love as she took the morning meal with him, Thomas, and Argyle. Dugald sighed. “I dinna ken, milady. She speaks of missing her father and of wanting him tae walk her tae the chapel doors. I tell her tae send word tae him so he will come, yet she dinna do my bidding. I think…” He shook his head with another sigh. “You think what?” Maya prodded. “I think she fears her sire will believe she married below her station. I’m a knight, ‘tis true, but no’ a landed one. I canna—” “It’s not that, Dugald, I assure you.” “How can ye know?” “I know her mind. She’s my dearest friend.” “Then why?” Maya sighed. It wasn’t her place to tell Dugald Sara’s secrets. That should be up to her. “She’s very proud of you, Dugald, to be sure. Yet she misses her father. She and he were very close. And I’m sure it pains her plenty to know that he cannot be here to see her wed. It isn’t that she won’t invite him, it’s that she can’t..” Dugald ran his fingers roughly through his hair in agitation. “This is what my lady says, yet when I ask her why he canna come, she willna say!” Maya darted her eyes toward Thomas and noticed that her husband was listening intently. “It’s not my place to reveal her reasons. It’s up to Sara to do so.” She said these words as she stared at Thomas, telling him without saying it outright that he was to speak no more on the topic. “Mayhap she and her da’ are at odds right now, Sir Dugald.” Argyle offered this seemingly reasonable explanation for Lady Sara’s behavior as of late, then resumed eating. “Nay Argyle, she swears they are as close as a sire and his child can be!” Dugald shook his head. “This no’ knowing what troubles her vexes me sorely.” Maya took in a deep breath. This situation just…sucked. Poor Dugald was blaming himself for things he couldn’t change even if he knew the why of it. She was going to have to talk to Sara. One way or another she would convince her best friend to open up to Dugald and trust him. “Dugald, I vow I shall speak with her and see if I cannot get her to confide all to you. But for now you will just have to place your faith in my word and believe me when I say that her sadness has nothing to do with wedding you. She loves you. I’m certain of it.” Dugald stared at Maya for a long, silent moment. “Ye know the reason, do ye no’, milady?” Maya looked quickly down to her trencher and absently studied the foods in it. “Yes,” she admitted in a whisper, “I know.” “Then tell me.” “I cannot.” Maya held her breath, desperately hoping that Dugald would drop the subject altogether. But Lady Luck had never bothered with befriending Maya. “Milady, I must know that Sara’s feelings dinna change. I must know she wants tae wed me. How canna know if I dinna ken what troubles her?” Maya was rapidly growing irritated at both Dugald and Sara for being put in the middle. She speared her pheasant with a desperate jab, wanting to leave this conversation as a memory that once was. “Dugald, I vow that Sara loves you.” She waved her hand impatiently in the air.
  • 74. “She loved you before she even met you. When all she had done was read about you. That’s all that needs to be said.” Maya’s eyes widened, mirroring Dugald’s. Damn, but she had a hard time keeping her mouth shut when she was angry! She blinked and sputtered then looked quickly around, praying that Sara was still moping in her bedchamber. But, of course, she wasn’t. Damn Lady Luck. ***** Sara decided that she had spent enough time in her chamber feeling sorry for herself. What’s done was done. She now lived in the fourteenth century and nothing could change that fact. And she loved Dugald—desperately. She wanted to tell him everything, just as Maya had confided in Thomas, but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. “Oh Dugald and bye the way, the reason my father cannot attend our ceremony is because he hasn’t been born yet.” She smirked sarcastically. How the hell does one ease into a topic like that with finesse? Sara walked quickly toward the great hall, her appetite coming down on her like gangbusters. Just as she strode into the hall for breakfast she heard Maya say: “She loved you before she even met you. When all she had done was read about you. That’s all that needs to be said.” ***** “Sara I can explain…” Maya shot to her feet and wrung her hands together as she winced from the look of disdain written all over her best friend’s horrified face. “You told him,” Sara mouthed, dumbfounded. “You betrayed me.” “No!” Maya pleaded as she shook her head vigorously. “I told him nothing. I swear it!” “You lie! You betray and you lie!” Sara yelled in accusation. “I heard you tell him that I loved him before I met him, when I had only read of him! How could that make sense to him if you didn’t tell him we are from the future?” At Dugald and Argyle’s shocked gasps, Sara realized that she had accused her best friend falsely. Maya really hadn’t told Dugald the truth. Sara had. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Maya! I should have known you wouldn’t be disloyal to me even if your life depended on it!” Maya nodded. “I grew irritated and blurted out things I shouldn’t have, but I never would have told him. I swear it!” Thomas at last intervened, raising a hand to silence the two women. “Lady Sara, I willna take offense tae what ye said tae my wife fer I know the strong emotions behind the why of it. However, ‘tis past time tae explain all tae thy intended. Surely ye canna mean tae make an announcement such as this one, then say no more of it?” Sara released Maya, nodded to Thomas, then turned to face Dugald. He and Argyle sat at the table with mouths agape, both of them as still as stone statues. Sara clasped her hands together, trying to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Finally, she turned to face Maya, silently pleading for her to intervene. Maya took the hint and grabbed Sara’s hand. She walked her to the table, placed her in her customary seat across from Dugald, and took her own seat next to Thomas. “Thomas,” she said quietly, “please make certain that no servants or soldiers, save Argyle and Dugald of course, are given admittance to this hall until you say it alright to do so. It’s past time that we all spoke of this…together.” Thomas nodded, then stood to shout his command. A squire came scurrying from the kitchen area a moment later, then left to see to the laird’s bidding. “Bring more ale before you take your leave,” Maya called to the boy with a grin. “I’ve a feeling Sir Dugald and Argyle will need it.”
  • 75. Chapter 18 Poor Argyle. That one thought played over and over again in Maya’s mind like a broken record as she contemplated the poor boy’s stricken face. He wasn’t taking the revelation that she and Sara had traveled seven hundred years into the past at all well. He was trying, really he was, but he looked so blighted that it was all Maya could do to keep from jumping up on the table—where he was lying down to collect himself—and console him with a friendly hug. Of course, her husband would never go for that. And that’s what kept her from seeing the consolation through to its fruition. “Please tell me you’re alright, Argyle. You’ve come to mean a lot to us and I’d hate to think Sara and I have upset you,” Maya beseeched him as she and Sara fanned either side of his ashen face. “Really Argyle,” Sara scolded. “You’re making us feel awful about having confided in you.” Thomas and Dugald stood a few feet away observing the scene with frowns. If another had been there as witness, it would have been fast apparent that neither man liked their women coddling the young Argyle. Of course, in this case they both knew ‘twas necessary to make allowances for the lad, as they couldn’t blame him for his state of shock. Still… “Argyle!” Thomas bellowed. “I think ye ha’ held tae my wife’s skirts long enough, lad. Get a hold of yerself!” At first, Maya was moderately annoyed with her husband’s highhandedness, but as it turned out, it was just the push toward reality that Argyle needed. The young soldier grew immediately contrite, sitting himself upright on the table in a hurry. “I apologize, my lord,” he flushed. “’Tis much tae swallow in nigh an hour’s time.” Thomas nodded, but did not back down. The laird and Sir Dugald strode back to the table and resumed their positions. Argyle shook his head once more in bewilderment then moved slowly to his feet, as if testing that they were sturdy enough to hold him. Satisfied that they wouldn’t fail him again, he took to his seat. He ran his fingers through his hair and let out a loud sigh. “I apologize, ladies Maya and Sara. Pray continue.” The women eyed him cautiously, wondering if he really was up to hearing anything else of the future. Maya hesitated for the briefest of moments, then plunged right back into her topic. “So as I was saying…yes, it really is possible for men to go to the moon. And women too. We cannot forget that in the future whatever a man can do, a woman can do just as good if not better.” Maya added the last with a definitive nod of the head. Thomas snorted. He wasn’t so sure he liked this aspect of the future. Maya called it the Tampa English word for equality. Thomas called it the Scottish Gaelic word for dumb. Still, he kept this last bit to himself for he did not want his woman vexed with him this eve when he saw fit to love her. Apparently Dugald wasn’t so smart. “I can believe many things,” Dugald said, “but I canna believe this business of women going tae the moon, fighting in wars and the like. ‘Tis a boggle tae the mind.” Sara tapped her toe on the ground. “Well it’s true, Dugald. You don’t have to be a big, hulking brute to fight, you know!” “In fact,” Maya added with haughty indignation, “women are very good at picking off the enemy one by one. Because we’re smaller, we’re easier to camouflage behind a tree or
  • 76. whatnot.” Dugald held up a silencing hand. “I surrender, milady. I canna believe it, but I do surrender.” “Are you calling me a liar?” Dugald flushed. “Nay milady, I willna ever—” “The Lady Maya does no’ lie.” Five stunned faces looked high and low, to the left and to the right, but none could see who had made that assertion. Argyle paled once more as he jumped to his feet and took his sword in hand. “’Tis a wizard who speaks, my lord! Mayhap ‘tis Nick the Arse, looking fer thy wife! We must flee! We canna fight that which we canna see!” Maya rolled her eyes. There was somebody here all right, but he most definitely wasn’t a wizard. “Calm yourself, Argyle. There is no wizard here.” Maya ducked beneath the dining table and pulled a very hung over Harold the Sotted out from under it. The man reeked of alcohol. “There is only a minstrel here who literally drank himself under the table.” Argyle sighed a breath of relief, but Thomas didn’t have quite the same reaction. He flew to Maya’s side, picked up a thoroughly surprised Harold the Sotted by the neck of his tunic, and pierced him with his black gaze. “How much of my wife’s tale did ye hear, Harold?” His words were growled with an unmistakably menacing undertone. Harold drew his hands up to his head, wincing from the pain that the laird’s raised voice had caused to ripple through him. “All of it.” Thomas’s nostrils flared. If this tale got out, ‘twas possible others would accuse his wife of witchery. He warned the minstrel through gritted teeth. “But ye will no’ repeat it, ye ken old mon?” Harold nodded quickly, effectuating his release. The minstrel thanked the MacGregor for his compassion then turned to Maya. “I assure ye that yer secrets are safe with me, milady. After all, we time travelers must stick together.” He threw her a glazed over yet knowing wink, as if the two of them shared some intimate secret. Maya rolled her eyes heavenward, praying for patience. The last thing she felt like doing was catering to the overactive imagination of the village drunk. “Yes of course, Harold, we must. Now run along, will you. I’ve much to discuss with my husband.” She cast a disgruntled glance at Thomas, silently pleading with him to be patient with the old minstrel. Dugald took Harold the Sotted by the arm to lead him away. Harold, still no doubt partially drunk from last eve’s merrymaking in the great hall, dramatically winked once more at Maya as Dugald led him away. Maya thew her gaze to Sara and chuckled at her best friend’s bemusement. Sara obviously found Harold funny. Well, he was humorous, she conceded—in an annoying, drunkard sort of way. Maya grinned as she listened to Harold sing to himself while being led from the hall. Just sit right back and hear the tale A tale of a fateful trip It started on this tropic port Aboard this tiny ship. Maya stopped grinning. She looked at Sara and paled. “Oh my God!” they screeched in unison. “Harold, you’ve really been there!” Maya bellowed. “Dugald bring him back here immediately!” Sara demanded. Thomas’s eyes widened as he snapped his head around to study his wife’s face. “How can ye know that, love?” “Aye, how can ye know?” Argyle screeched. “He’s tae much in his cups,” Dugald rationalized with a roll of his eyes.
  • 77. Maya, however, wasn’t distracted. She marched over to where Harold the Sotted stood. She placed her hands on her hips and regarded him. “I knew it! Damn if I didn’t know that you sang those wretched songs at my wedding to the tune of Gilligan’s Island! You…you…copyright infringer!” Sara shook her head with a chuckle. “Great way to give him hell, Maya.” Maya turned to Sara and grunted. “Halt this at once,” Thomas demanded with a raised hand. “What is Gilligan’s Island and what has it tae do with the future?” Maya considered her husband’s confused appearance for a moment then answered him. “Remember the tale I told you of the thing called TV?” “Aye.” “Gilligan’s Island is on this contraption. Harold could only know that had he really been there.” Dugald and Argyle gasped, excited by this latest development. Maya turned her full attention back to the quickly sobering Harold the Sotted. She smiled mischievously up at him. “Call me a skeptic sweetcakes, but I need some more proof.” Harold moaned in pain as he grabbed at his aching skull, his hangover growing worse by the moment. Finally, he relented with a nod. “Aye, milady.” ***** Harold the Sotted darted his eyes back and forth between the two ladies. He must look like a recently arrested felon with police detectives working him into a cold sweat from either side – just like on one of those TV shows in the future, he reckoned. “I’ve tol’ ye four times now, milady. I stayed there for nigh a year, but I came back tae me home as soon as I could find the black clouds.” “So you’re saying that it’s possible to travel back and forth between the two worlds?” Maya asked the question in excitement, her mind already reeling with the possibilities. “Aye, but I canna commend it. Ye never know when the clouds will come. I was stuck in yer time nigh unto a year.” “But it can be done?” She nibbled on her lower lip. “Aye.” Thomas shook his head and glowered at Harold. “Me thinks this a fine tale, but one that could ha’ been made up just from listening tae my wife from under yon table. Will ye no’ ask fer more proof than this, wife?” Maya stared at her husband distractedly then inclined her head. She grinned over to Harold. “You heard him, sweetcakes. It’s time to play twenty questions.” Argyle drew himself in closer to the table. “This is a game from the future, milady?” “Oh yeah,” Maya grinned. “Let the games begin.” A few minutes later, Maya drew a seat up next to Thomas as Harold was seated on her other side. She folded her arms across her chest and prepared to quiz the Sotted on what he knew. Thomas’s mouth curved wryly when he beheld the all-powerful look on his wife’s face. ‘Twas noticeable that she couldn’t wait to let the games begin, as she had called it. “Shall we commence, little laird?” Maya smiled at her husband then turned her attention back to Harold. She could hear Thomas’s faint chuckles beside her. She decided to ignore them. “Now then Harold, I take it that you have watched TV before, have you not?” “Aye.”
  • 78. “Prove it. Tell me something that only another time traveler could know.” Harold the Sotted sat contemplatively as he scratched his whiskers. His head was spinning, his mind reeling—a side effect from the deplorable state of sobriety he decided. “Well I must confess, milady, that I dinna watch much of it. I liked Gilligan’s Island, fer the comely Ginger could catch any mon’s fancy. Aside from that show, I dinna care fer the TV o’er much.” Maya searched Sara’s face. She could tell that her best friend was only slightly more convinced, just as she herself was. After all, he hadn’t said much, but he did know who Ginger was. It figures, Maya thought with a sigh. The man was a pervert. “Please continue, Harold.” Harold sipped from the cup of water that had been placed before him. He nodded his head as he sat back in his seat, reminiscing with a smile of times past. “I dinna care fer TV o’er much, but I was an avid reader of yer books. Read every day I did.” Maya squirmed in her seat with brewing excitement. Perhaps she and Harold had something in common after all. “Really, Harold? Who did you read? Krentz? Joy? King?” Harold shook his head. “Nay, milady. Me favorites was Hustler and Penthouse. Even passed up the cups a few times when I had coin only fer one or the other.” Maya reddened. She dropped her gaze to her lap, causing Argyle to press her for details. “Hustler and Penthouse were no’ tae yer liking, milady?” “No!” She grimaced. “The are pure and utter male filth!” “Filth?” Thomas leaned in closer to his wife. She was obviously embarrassed about something, but he had no idea what over. “What manner of books are books of male filth?” Maya stirred restlessly on her chair. Thomas would no doubt find her answer shocking, but… “They are books that have pictures of naked women in them. The women are generally shown having sex with men or with each other.” Thomas nodded, but said nothing. Maya grinned as she watched her husband’s face turn even more scarlet than hers had. Argyle, on the other hand, appeared thoroughly enraptured by the possibility of such reading pastimes. “Mayhap ye brought back one of these books, Harold? Mayhap I could offer ye ale fer a quick look—” Argyle grunted from the jab to his side Dugald gave him. “Or mayhap no’,” he wheezed out. Maya looked at Sara who was shaking her head absently and chuckled. She couldn’t approve of the Sotted’s love of skin magazines, but who was she to criticize? Besides, Harold’s tale was becoming more and more palatable to Maya as the minutes ticked by. Okay, so he’d been to the future. But had he been to Tampa? Or perhaps the clouds had taken him to some place else altogether? She needed to find out how the clouds worked. “To what city did you travel, Harold?” “Tampa. Same as ye, milady.” Maya knit her brows together as she tried to think of a way Harold could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Tampa he had lived in for a year. “Okay, if that’s the case, then you must know much of my city.” “Aye. I met a comely lass there who showed me its many wonders.” Maya grunted. She just bet he had. “Fine. Then what, pray tell, is the name of the parade that takes place there every year? A parade in which the men of the city dress as pirates and throw coins and necklaces to the crowd.” Harold frowned. “Gasparilla.” Maya and Sara gasped. “That’s right, Harold!” Sara remarked excitedly. She clapped her hands together and smiled.
  • 79. Maya eyed the minstrel curiously. “Why do you look mad, Harold?” Harold gave a loud snort as his anger came boiling to the surface. He bolted upright in his chair, slamming his fist against the table. “The lords of the Gasparilla Parade do swindle the kinsmen, milady! The coin is no’ real. I found out as much when I tried tae cash them fer drink at the place of wonder and dreams come true.” Maya grinned. “The place of wonder and dreams come true?” “Aye,” Harold confirmed with a look of awe in his eye. “’Twas known tae ye as The Wooden Nickel.” Maya rolled her eyes. Sara laughed. Thomas, Dugald, and Argyle were perplexed. “The Wooden Nickel?” Thomas asked. Maya sighed and shook her head. “It’s a place in Tampa that serves hundreds of different varieties of ale, my lord.” “Hundreds of different varieties”? The shout of bewilderment and awe came out in unison from the laird and his two men. Harold nodded, the look of an all-knowing man of the world smothering his features. “A place of wonder and dreams come true, tae be sure.” “Hundreds,” Argyle echoed in a whisper, “’tis tae much tae hope fer. And the books. By the saints, ‘tis—” Maya raised her hand to silence Argyle and his musings. She threw her gaze toward Sara, asking her with a telling expression if she was convinced. At Sara’s nod, Maya addressed Harold once more. “Out of all the future has to offer, it’s a sad shame that ale and naked women were all that caught your fancy, Harold. Nevertheless, Lady Sara and I are certain of your truthfulness.” She sighed. “You’ve really been there.” Dugald studied Maya for a long moment before reacting to her exasperated expression. “I canna ken why this does no’ make ye happy, milady. Are ye no’ glad that ye ha’ found another who has shared in yer experiences?” Maya glanced at Harold thoughtfully before answering. She drew in a deep breath and turned to her husband. “The problem as I see it is this: now that we know it’s possible to go back and forth between the two worlds, what do we do with this knowledge?” Chapter 19 Thomas loomed over the bed and glared down at his wife, his hands balled into determined fists at his sides. Any sane man would be frightened fierce were the MacGregor to stare at him so. He wore only the plaid gathered around his hips, leaving his chest bare and his tensely corded muscles quite visible. His nostrils were flaring, his breathing loud and heavy, his eyes like shards of black onyx. Maya had refused to couple with him this eve, had in fact given him what the Lady Sara had called the cold shoulder ever since she had stomped off from the great hall after questioning the minstrel. The woman actually wanted to go back to her future. Of course he had been forced to declare it otherwise! He was no fool, after all. Maya had said that she only wanted to go back with Sara to set everything to rights and would come back on the next black cloud headed to Scotland.
  • 80. Thomas was taking no chances. Mayhap his wife would realize that she loved her Tampa clan more than she had come to love him. Nay, ‘twas too much to risk. Maya had said not a word to Thomas since his shouted denial in the great hall. Most husbands would find this treatment preferable to his lady’s wicked tongue, but he did not. He would rather she shout and scowl, for at least then he could know the extent of her anger. Thomas feared that Maya’s silence was an attempt to trick him into thinking she would eventually relent to his commands, when in fact she was probably plotting even now to run from him. So, naturally, he had tripled her escort. Now three soldiers followed at her heels as opposed to merely Argyle. Thomas snorted in triumph. She thought she could run from him, did she? Soon she would accept that she could never get away. Maya lay in bed reading from a thick book of Latin. She had decided that, like it or not, it was a language she should come to be literate in if this was where she was to live. It was the language used by scribes and scholars and the only language that virtually all documents were written in. She was aware of her husband’s menacing presence shadowing over her, but she refused to give him the benefit of her audience. The bastard had put more guards on her! Watchdogs! It was enough to make her seethe. But this time Maya seethed on the inside. She had made up her mind and was sticking to it—she would not react to her wretched husband and his wretched dictates. But she would be damned before she would let him think that they could continue on as they had before he had decided to lock her up and throw away the key. It was bad enough when Maya was ordered to not leave the keep without Thomas after she had wandered down to the village, but now she couldn’t even walk through her own blasted home without three men tripping over her. It was too grave an insult to overlook. She knew she was beyond fury—too irate to have a rational discussion with her husband about anything at the moment, so she bit her tongue and said nothing. He could stand over her and glower to his heart’s content, but she wasn’t budging. And what was he glowering over? Sex! Ha! He was acting like a little boy who’d been denied his favorite toy. What upset Maya the most about the whole situation was that she had already changed her mind and decided against risking a trip to the future before Thomas had brought down the rafters with his show of temper earlier today and ordered more guards to watch her. History was clear on one score, after all—the fourteenth century was where Maya and Sara were meant to be. Even Sara agreed. She and Maya wanted to send someone to the future, most likely Harold or Argyle, to collect some of their belongings and to inform Sara’s father of their fate, for they themselves could not go. What if something was to happen and they could never return? No, it couldn’t be risked. They needed to find someone who could go, but who would not mind staying there for all time if fate dealt them that unexpected hand. Of course, as pissed off as Maya was with her husband at the moment, she wasn’t so sure that she’d mind fate dumping her in the twenty-first century forever. But her baby—Thomas’s baby, their baby—she couldn’t bear the thought of her husband’s strong arms being denied the right to hold his first child. Never seeing him coo and coddle to their tiny creation, never seeing the immense satisfaction that she knew he’d radiate just from looking at his child…no, she couldn’t stand it.
  • 81. Nor could she stand, however, the risk of her unborn child dying. This was the Middle Ages after all and child mortality rates were astronomically high. It wasn’t at all uncommon for a baby to die before it lived a full year. That was more than Maya could handle emotionally. Especially if her little one was to die of something that could be easily remedied in the twenty-first century, such as a fever. It boggled her mind to think of the good that even one bottle of Tylenol could do in this world. Maybe she should attempt to explain these concerns to Thomas. Perhaps he would relent and allow someone from the clan to travel forward if he was aware of the good it could bring to his people. They might be remedies that weren’t meant to appear for hundreds of years, but Maya had no qualms whatsoever about changing the future if it was to be of benefit to humanity. Maybe she should tell Thomas about the baby. He would never allow suffering and death to come to his own child if he could help it, after all. Maya thought over that idea for a moment, then discarded the topic from her mind altogether. No way could she tell him yet! He’d probably triple-quadruple her guard if he knew she was pregnant. Maya looked up at her husband and gasped, startled out of her reflective state. The brute had gone so far as to force the book from her hands and snap it shut with a resounding boom. “If ye canna favor me with yer attention, wife, then ye canna favor it on anyone, or anything, as the case may be.” Thomas folded his arms across his chest and glared down at Maya. Maya raised an eyebrow at her husband’s highhandedness, but spoke not a word. He wanted to play a little control game with her, did he? Fine. Two could play at that game. She rolled towards the wall, giving Thomas her back, and concentrated on sleeping. Fortunately for her, the early stages of pregnancy were conducive to hibernation, so she fell into a deep slumber within minutes. Just before she drifted off, she heard her husband’s low growl in tune with him climbing into bed. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that Thomas had given up and gone to sleep, albeit with ill grace. ***** Maya moaned in her sleep, a tide of pleasure cascading over her. Her unconscious mind didn’t know what it was dreaming, only that it was pleasant. She didn’t want to awaken for a long, long while. The hour was late and the moon full as Thomas hovered over his wife’s naked body. He had managed to remove her chemise without her knowing of it and prayed that she wouldn’t realize what was being done to her until it was too late. Once her passion overrode her anger, he was certain she wouldn’t fight their coupling. He needed her, tonight more than ever. All the talk about going back to the future had scared him mightily, made him relive the fears of losing his Maya that he’d harbored the weeks before their wedding. The past few weeks since they spoke their nuptials had been bliss. They hadn’t argued a bit. But now they were back to fighting. He could handle the argument, but he couldn’t handle the fear that stemmed from the argument’s cause. He couldn’t lose her. Not now. Not ever. Thomas wanted the reassurance that only his wife’s wee body could give him. When he was inside of her, he felt more alive than at any other time. ‘Twas then and only then that he felt safe, knowing she was going nowhere. He ran his hand over Maya’s belly, not stopping until he reached the apex of her thighs. His other hand was supporting his neck as he laid on his elbow to watch the effect that his
  • 82. touching had on her. Within moments of his fingers coming into contact with Maya’s wet flesh, her nipples responded and poked upward toward the moonlit sky. Thomas groaned. ‘Twas as if her nipples beckoned to him, letting him know they were there and wanting to be suckled. He couldn’t resist. He continued stroking the swollen piece of flesh between his wife’s thighs while he bent his head to capture a nipple in his mouth. He took his time, knowing that he could savor each one for as long as he liked, since Maya was asleep beside him. Usually his wife would grow wild and beg him to take her after he suckled for no more than scarce moments, so he was thoroughly enjoying this unimpeded exploration of his wife’s body. Her nipples were stacked taller and more delicious on her breasts than he had realized, and the knowledge of it made his flesh grow harder than it already was. He took his time with each nipple, starting toward the base of it then slowly sucking all the way up to each rouge tip. A slight moan elicited from Maya’s throat as the wet flesh Thomas’s fingers were stroking trickled its juices down his hand. He moaned. He could bear the torture no more. Thomas gave each of his wife’s nipples one last and thorough suckle then quietly worked his way down the bed to where he could sit on his knees between her thighs. He spread her legs open wide and began coaxing the nub of flesh in the folds of her womanhood with more urgency. His wife’s back arched as she mumbled incoherently in response to his touch. Thomas knew her need was fast approaching, that any moment now she would surrender to her climax... Maya’s eyes flew open as she groaned in orgasmic bliss. She awakened just in time to see her husband impale himself into her flesh. His teeth were set, his jaw rigid. She moaned again, the sight and feel of her husband’s thick shaft thrusting inside of her enough to send her body into pandemonium all over again. Thomas rode his wife’s body hard, pounding into her depths with possessive strokes. He stared into her eyes all the while, their gazes never once breaking. Maya reached up to stroke her husband’s chest, the masculine feel of it never failing to drive her over the edge. A primal sound ripped from Thomas’s throat from the sensations her touching produced. He grabbed both of her hands, locked them together behind her head, and drove himself into her over and over again. Maya moaned in ecstasy as a new orgasmic wave of pleasure hit her like a concrete wall. It was shockingly intense, causing her belly to contract with ferocious spasms. As the walls of flesh surrounding his cock began relentlessly contracting around him, Thomas shouted out his wife’s name and poured his seed deep into her body. Breathlessly, they clung to each other afterward—neither speaking, neither moving. In contented bliss, they both fell fast asleep. Chapter 20 The following week was a trying one for the MacGregors. Thomas, ever frightened that Maya would bolt from him if given the chance, still had three guards on his wife at all times,
  • 83. rather than merely Argyle. He suspected that his lady wife did not care for this development, but she never said otherwise. In fact, much to his dismay, she never said much at all, in temper or no. He still clearly remembered her reaction to being told that her guard was increasing. Maya’s eyes flared for the briefest of moments, then she inclined her head in resignation and walked away. If he had hoped for an argument, she hadn’t give him one. Och, but the lass left his emotions in chaos. Thomas took his bath then came down to partake in the evening’s fare. Before he wed, he had never bothered with bathing before the day’s last meal, but he knew his wife would not come to him in her passion otherwise. Now he bathed regularly, against church doctrine or no. “’Evening, wife.” Maya met his gaze and smiled serenely, too serenely. “Good evening, my lord.” Thomas grunted. She was smiling, aye, but ‘twas as if her eyes were looking straight through him. “How was yer day?” “Fine. Yours?” “Fine.” Maya nodded her head then reached for her goblet of goat’s milk. She took a small sip before retiring it to the table. Thomas sighed. “Where are Sir Dugald and Lady Sara?” Maya shrugged. “I cannot say.” “Ye canna or ye willna?” “I don’t know where they are, Thomas,” she announced in a reasonable tone devoid of any emotion. “I am not their keeper.” She speared a wedge of cheese and brought it slowly to her lips. The remainder of the meal was spent in silence. Maya quickly finished the foods in her trencher then rose and asked to be excused. He grunted his acceptance and indicated with a flick of his wrist that his wife could go to their chamber. Thomas took a tankard of ale and retired to his favorite seat by the hearth in the great hall. He sat down with a dramatic sigh and rubbed his temples as he watched the flames flicker back and forth. The fire was hot and full of a life—just like his lady used to be. He grunted. Thomas needed to think of a way to put the fire back in his Maya’s eyes. Quickly. ***** Christmas came and went without much fanfare. Because the laird was still apprehensive about letting anyone inside of the keep until Robert MacAllister was caught, he didn’t allow the villagers inside to feast as his wife had wished. Nor did he allow craftsmen to venture inside that they might help decorate. She had wanted to celebrate the tradition according to the customs of her own clan, so he promised that next year would be different. Thomas didn’t bother explaining his reasons for telling her nay this year, just simply told her no. Much to his disappointment and aggravation, she didn’t question him on the why of it either. She merely nodded her head and strolled away. Thomas had thought to put his wife in a better mood by plying her with trinkets. For Christmas he gifted her with more fine silks, ribbons, lace, and three ornamental pieces of jewelry that had been acquired back at the Hamilton fair but kept aside for this occasion. Maya was pleased with the gifts, that much Thomas gathered. She had oohed and awed over all of the pretty materials he had purchased to make gowns with. But still, the gleam was
  • 84. not in her eye. She went to bed early every eve, claiming she was too tired to keep her eyes open another moment. The day after Christmas Thomas reduced the size of Maya’s private guard from three back down to one. Again, he knew that his wife was pleased with this decision, but again she merely smiled, nodded, and feigned fatigue. He was at his wit’s end and didn’t care o’er much for the feeling. What was he to do? How would he get his Maya to love him as she had before? How would he put the fire back in her eyes? ***** “I see that cup of ale and I raise ye tae cups, milady.” Maya snorted at Harold. There was no way he was going to beat her hand. Her lips curled wryly as she regarded her newfound poker buddy. “Are you sure you want to raise the stakes, Harold?” The minstrel arched one gray eyebrow at his mistress as he leaned backward into the chair. He folded his arms across his chest and beamed triumphantly at her. “No sweating.” Maya grinned. “That’s no sweat, Harold, no sweat.” He waved his hand impatiently in the air. “Whatever.” Maya chuckled. She was growing fond of the old MacGregor minstrel. He had turned out to be quite an amusing man, not at all a bad character. And, of course, he had managed to bring back a deck of cards as a souvenir from the future, for which she would be eternally grateful to him. Without Harold and Argyle, Maya would have gone crazy during the past two weeks of her confinement. Now she was back down to only one guard at any given time, a squire named Gilfred who followed her around while Argyle was training with Thomas, and Argyle the rest of the time. At least whenever she was not within her husband’s sight. Thomas still stubbornly refused to let Maya wander any further than to the doors of the keep and, much to her chagrin, he also arrogantly kept his reasons to himself. She suspected it was because her husband didn’t yet trust her and that knowledge was more upsetting that anything else. The most taxing rift between husband and wife as of late was caused, however, by the subject of the twenty-first century. Or, more to the point, by the lack of conversation about it. Thomas simply refused to speak of the topic and would stomp off from any room he was in if the subject was so much as broached in his presence. Thomas and Maya were getting along civilly—barely—during the days, but the tension between them was thick enough to cut with a knife. Maya hoped it was just a matter of time now before her husband would allow her to discuss the future with him again. Then she would finally be able to suggest her idea that one of the MacGregor men be sent to the future to collect the possessions she deemed necessary, as well as to collect Sara’s father for her wedding. Since she was going to stay here, she expected to be able to transport some medicines back to this time, at the very least. Maya had already discussed this plan in detail with Harold and Argyle and both of them were eager to be the chosen one. She was skeptical of both men to a degree, but on the other hand, she trusted them more than anyone else to do her bidding. Her fears were small ones, trivial at best, but persistent no less. From Harold, she feared that once he got to future, he’d forget all about his mission and head straight to “the place of wonder and dreams come true”. From Argyle, she feared he’d get a taste of his first girly magazine or nudie bar and never want to leave. Still, Maya realized
  • 85. that someone had to go. And Thomas would no doubt tie her up until she was old and decrepit before he’d allow that someone to be her. Argyle slammed his cards down with an expletive and a groan. “I fear I must fold. I canna hold up with this sorry hand.” Maya chuckled. “Argyle, you’ve much to learn, my boy. Don’t you remember the lesson we had about bluffing?” Argyle turned red in the face and cast his gaze to the table. “I canna feel right telling ye lies, milady.” Harold rolled his eyes and grunted. “And ye want tae be the one who travels tae the future tae do our lady’s bidding instead of me?” He snorted. “They would eat ye alive, lad.” Maya concealed her amusement over the disgruntled look smothering Argyle’s face. She knew he was embarrassed, but calling attention to that fact would only make it worse. And besides, Harold was right. Even if a boy in the fourteenth century was considered a man by eighteen, Argyle was still remarkably naïve. Still, unlike either Thomas or Dugald, who had no care for seeing the future at all, or at least claimed as much, Argyle really did want to see it. And the more Maya thought about her plan, the less she liked the idea of sending only one man. After all, if Harold or Argyle went forward and got stuck there, and both men had decided they were willing to risk that possibility, then having someone a part of their own world beside them was the better idea. Maya would have gone crazy without Sara here to lean on. She sighed. Argyle really had to learn a thing or two before she let him loose in the twenty-first century. “It’s not really the same as telling lies when it’s expected, Argyle. It’s a game. Were it not a game, I could agree with you.” Argyle flushed. “I am no’ the good poker buddy that the Sotted is, am I?” “Of course you are! You just haven’t had the practice that Harold and I have had. Just keep playing.” Argyle smiled contentedly, but shook his head. “I would love tae, milady, but I fear I canna afford tae wager again. If I lose the next hand, I willna ha’ ale with me dinner.” Harold sighed his agreement. “’Tis true enough our lady is relentless with the cards. I ha’ been sober now fer nigh unto three days.” He frowned, showing his extreme displeasure over that fact. He looked at Maya and raised a brow. “A mon could almost believe that the Lady Maya is doin’ her best tae keep a minstrel from his cups.” Maya quickly darted her eyes toward Harold, the look of surprise in them giving away her game. He had read her like an open book. “I…uh…I…” Harold laughed. “’Tis alright, milady. And ye are right. A mon canna stay sotted all the while.” Maya’s mouth dropped open in amazement. She hadn’t thought Harold would relent so easily. “Do you jest?” “Nay.” “Then you will give it up?” “Aye.” She blinked. “Just like that?” “Aye.” Maya looked dumbfounded, but happily so. She gathered her cards and chuckled delightedly. “But then what will we call you if you no longer take to your cups? We can’t very well keep referring to you as Harold ‘the Sotted’.” Argyle and Harold laughed merrily. “Mayhap we can call him Harold the Unsotted!” Argyle suggested with a dimpled grin.
  • 86. “Or Harold the Sober,” Maya added with a wicked wink. “Nay,” Harold laughed, his tone suddenly growing serious. “I will still be the Sotted.” “But why?” Maya and Argyle asked in unison. Harold shrugged. “As a reminder.” He looked to his friends and smiled. “A reminder of what I was and a reminder of what I will no’ be again.” ***** An hour later, Argyle’s lesson in “bluffing” continued at a grueling pace. Maya taught him all the finer points of bluffing with his eyes and Harold taught him how to use body language to make an opponent nervous enough to fold. This time, however, they were wagering for wedges of cheese and extra portions of mutton stew. It didn’t seem right to play for ale anymore, not with Harold’s newfound sobriety at stake. Sara was a damn good poker player and when Maya considered that fact, she wished she had been able to coax her best friend into playing a hand or two. But she hadn’t. Instead, Sara was list making, just as she had been since Maya informed her of her decision to talk Thomas into sending a man to the future to bring back Sara’s father among other things. That was nearly a week ago. Maya realized that much of Sara’s drive toward compulsivity as of late was due to the fact that her dear friend was worrying that even if Maya was able to finally dissuade Thomas from his rigid stance and he allowed a man to go, it could still turn out that he was being sent on a fool’s errand. It would break Sara’s heart if the clouds didn’t come, if Harold or Argyle—or Harold and Argyle—couldn’t make it to the future. Or worse yet, if they got there and could never return. “I call you, Argyle.” Maya spoke to him in Tampa English, pleased that he was learning it so quickly and so well. Argyle smiled. He threw his hand to the table and snorted, his reply in the same Tampa English. “Read these and weep, milady.” Maya grinned. “Well what do you know? You actually did it. Full house Argyle, very impressive.” Argyle drew himself up as straight as an arrow and beamed proudly toward Maya and Harold. “I am what ye might call ‘bad tae my bone’.” Maya and Harold laughed, the conversation reverting back to Gaelic. “Going to give me a chance to win back that wedge of cheese?” Maya asked. Argyle didn’t consider that option for a moment. “Nay! I know when tae quit.” “Ye are wiser than ye look, lad.” Harold added the last as he stood to rise. “I’m taking me self off tae yon chamber fer a nap. I will see ye both at the evening meal.” Maya and Argyle offered their good-byes then turned back around to face each other. She tossed her unbound hair over her shoulder and chuckled. “We could always wager on something else, sweetcakes.” Argyle raised a brow. “Such as?” Maya grinned mischievously at her young shadow. “Freedom.” “Freedom?” “Uh huh. If you win, I will cause you no trouble for an entire day and we will do only the things that you consider fun. But if I win, then you have to sneak me to the lake so I can enjoy a nice walk.” Argyle flushed. He didn’t want to disappoint his lady, but he had no desire to die at the laird’s hands either. “Milady, I dinna think it tae be a sound idea. My lord willna let me live tae see another day do I take ye from the keep.”
  • 87. “But he wouldn’t have to know.” “And what if he found out what we were aboot?” “And he definitely would find out.” Maya froze. The last statement had not been uttered by Argyle, but by the last man she had hoped to see during this conversation. She turned around slowly, a smile that she hoped would be viewed as charming plastered to her lips. “Hello Thomas. I did not hear you come in.” Thomas stared at his wife through narrowed eyes. His anger was so palpable that even Maya swallowed roughly when she looked at him. Good, he decided. ‘Tis wise for a wife to fear her husband’s wrath. And, at the moment, fury was the only emotion dwelling in his enraged body. “Go tae our bedchamber. Now.” Maya nodded. Thomas was behaving downright frightening. He was too calm, too controlled, too utterly terrifying. There was no way she was going to argue with him in this state. She rose to her feet, threw Argyle an apologetic glance, and walked quickly past her husband and out the door. Chapter 21 Thomas sat down in his chair by the hearth, a tankard of ale in hand. He stared into the crackling fire, watching the flames pulse back and forth. The embers danced a warm display of red, yellow, and orange. ‘Twas beautiful. And entrancing. But they gave no answers. He sighed. What was he to do? He sent his wife to their chambers quite a while ago. At first, his intention had been to follow soon afterwards, only giving Maya enough time to worry o’er her punishment, and then make his appearance and tear into her with his blistering words. Mayhap he would even have put her over his knee this time. It became evident to Thomas before Maya reached the stairs that he was of no mind to see her just yet. He feared what he would say, what punishments he would give. He knew that it was of a dire necessity that he calm his self before going to their chamber. So he paced the halls for over two hours then settled into his chair for another one. Much thinking and three tankards of ale later, he was still of no mind to see his wife. The MacGregor already knew what would happen if he did. Naught good would come of it. They would have words, he would lose his temper, Maya would lose hers, he would punish her with more restrictions, she would grow more despondent and like him even less—if ‘twas possible—and their marriage would be in an even sorrier state than it already was. ‘Twas strained enough between the two of them. Maya was passing pleasant to him when he’d check in on her or pass her in the hall during the days. Aye, she was civil, but no more a boon would she grant him than that. ‘Twas only during the nights when he’d trick her body into a state of need that his wife would cling to him, calling his name in loving gasps of breath just as she used to. And even that was losing its comforts. No longer did Maya reach for him in the nights of her own accord, no longer did she steal kisses from him in passing during the days. He wanted that again, needed it more than he’d realized. No more could he fool himself into believing that ‘twas good enough did she accept him when he’d coax her body into wanting him while she slept unawares. Nay, he needed his
  • 88. stubborn, mischievous, passionate wife back, and he needed her while she was awake. Bloody hell, the woman didn’t even argue at him a’tall anymore! As of late, were he to give her a dictate he sensed she didn’t like, Maya did no more than sigh and relent. Thomas didn’t know what her acquiescence meant precisely, only that it couldn’t be a good sign for their future happiness. Had he broken her spirit so badly? Had he crushed her will so entirely? He shuddered at the thought. That was never the intention. His goal all along had been twofold: keep his wife in his own time far away from her future and, just as important, keep her safe from any person who would do her harm. Robert MacAllister in particular. The MacAllister was still roaming about on the loose. Thomas had sent patrols out five times since the rival laird’s badly conceived of attempt to steal Maya out from beneath him. All five times had been to no avail. If the man was still in the area, he was hiding himself well. And there was no way in heaven, hell, or purgatory that Thomas would relax his guard and allow his wife to roam about until Robert was dead. Didn’t Maya understand that all he did was done in the name of his love for her? Didn’t she realize that he would rather die here and now than to live a day without his wife? Nay, she mustn’t. Or mayhap she did and simply no longer cared. Thomas sighed. He prayed that the truth was the former explanation, but feared beyond reason that ‘twas the latter. Chapter 22 Maya wallowed in self-pity and not a little apprehension as she sat stoically on her bathing stool and waited for Lena to finish washing her hair. Lena was chattering on about Argyle, as had been the girl’s custom since learning that Maya knew of her love for him. Maya feigned interest, nodding occasionally when it seemed appropriate to do so, but saying nothing. She blamed her sorry state of disinterest on her husband. Typically, she rather enjoyed Lena’s drawn out musings of Argyle, but today she could scarcely concentrate on what her lady’s maid was saying. “Canna ye believe that, milady?” Maya blinked rapidly then crooked her neck to look up at Lena. “Huh?” Lena giggled as she continued to work the rose petal soap through her mistress’s hair. “’Tis nothing, milady. I was just saying how warmed I was tae Argyle yestereve when he bade me tae walk with him in the gardens, frozen over that they were.” Lena sighed. “’Twas romantic, indeed.” Maya smiled. At least someone at the keep was getting romanced these days. Sara and Dugald did more fighting than loving anymore, though Maya knew it was only because of Sara’s desire to have her father walk her down the aisle and Dugald’s refusal to allow Sara passage back to the future to acquire him. Sara had been mightily pissed for a while, Maya mused. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her friend so bent out of shape. And what of she and Thomas? Ha! Now there was a sorry case of romance to consider. They’d hardly spoken in the past two weeks, probably because neither of them wanted to break the fragile truce fashioned since her husband had blown up and, like Dugald, refused to allow Maya to speak of the future. “Ye ha’ no need fer it, lass,” Thomas had said more than once, “the Castle MacGregor is
  • 89. yer home now and ‘tis thoughts of here that should consume ye.” To which, uncharacteristically enough, Maya had merely sighed and conceded to his wishes. Whether or not she agreed with him was beside the point. Maya wished like hell that she still possessed the strength to give Thomas a good quarrel, but she didn’t. Lately the baby was making her too exhausted to move, let alone expend a breath in argument. She knew fatigue was extremely common in the first trimester, so her constant need of sleep didn’t worry her in the slightest. Still, a lack of energy was annoying, to be sure. She couldn’t wait until she left her first trimester behind in a couple of months and resumed her normal level of alertness. Then she’d blister her husband’s ears sorely. Maya flexed her back muscles, stretching them as she yawned. “Oh dear, milady. Let’s get ye out of this tub and sit by the fire tae brush yer hair dry. The soonest we do it, the soonest ye may nap. ‘Tis good fer the MacGregor’s bairn.” Maya’s eyes widened in surprise. Before she could ask Lena how she knew of her pregnancy, a bucket of water was thrown over her head to rinse the soap from her hair. “Don’t worry I’ll be tellin’ anybody,” Lena promised in a soothing tone. “Yer secrets I will keep till ye and my cousin the laird want them known.” Maya grimaced. Obviously her maid thought Thomas was already apprised of the situation. She almost told Lena the truth, but thought better of it. All Lena would do is chastise her for keeping knowledge of his child from him. Maya didn’t feel like hearing that. And besides, Lena and Thomas rarely saw each other. It wasn’t as if she had to fear her husband finding out about his child from his cousin. Maya swiped the water from her eyes then stood up to go sit by the hearth. “But how did you know?” Lena shrugged. “I see yer body naked in the daylight every day, milady. ‘Twas easy enough tae notice the changes.” “Such as?” Lena grinned. “Yer bosom is a mite bigger.” Maya chuckled. “I suppose I should be grateful it’s my bosom instead of my behind.” “Milady!” Lena chided with a red face that made Maya giggle. Ten minutes later, Maya purred in delight as Lena worked the comb through her hair. Lena’s soft touch felt like manna from heaven. Between the warmth from the fire and Lena’s soothing combing job, Maya knew she was only moments from napping. She smiled at the irony of it all. She should be worrying about what new retributions Thomas would cast off on her after hearing her try to talk Argyle into mischief. She should be worried, yes, but her baby made it otherwise. Instead, she was blissfully exhausted. Thomas was going to be angry when he came to her, she knew and accepted that as fact. Maya sighed. When would things get back to normal between them? When would he trust her enough to know that she wasn’t going to leave him? When would he confide his worries to her? When—bah! What’s the use? The man was too stubborn and arrogant to suit her! Still, he was the only man she could and would ever love. The rift between them was killing her. “Come, milady,” Lena whispered as she gently pulled Maya to her feet. “Let us take ye tae the bed.” Maya nodded, too tired to think, too exhausted to counter her maid’s decision. Yes, Lena was right. Sleep was just what she needed. Later Maya would think up a way to mend the breech between she and her husband. Later she would find the energy to make him see things from her point of view. Later. For now there was delicious sleep. Lena led Maya to the bed, pulled back the covers, and delicately deposited her mistress into them. She left her naked, as was the custom. Lena pulled the covers to her lady’s chin and
  • 90. quietly crept to the chamber door. She took a quick peek back at the bed before leaving and smiled to herself as she noted that the Lady MacGregor was already in slumber. ***** Thomas took the stairs in long strides, ready to talk to his wife. He was still angry and probably would be for quite some time, but he needed to see her. He met up with Lena in the hall and bade her good day, to which his wife’s maid replied to him with a cautionary shhh. Thomas raised an eyebrow. Was his sweet-tempered cousin becoming as cheeky as his lady used to be? Ever observant, Lena noticed the scowl on the laird’s face and grew immediately contrite. “Forgive me, my lord cousin,” she blushed. “’Tis only that my lady did just now fall asleep. She’s taking her nap.” Nap? It wasn’t like Maya, the boundless ball of energy that she was, to be lazy in the day hours. Was it? Thomas grunted. ‘Twas obvious his lady was wanting to avoid him. “She will ha’ tae sleep later. I will speak tae her now.” Lena drew herself up fully erect, refusing to budge from her station between the laird and the chamber door. “I hope ye dinna banish me tae the kitchens fer saying so, but I fear I canna let ye upset her. She needs her sleep, she does. There’s no need fer waking her just now when ye can growl at her later.” Thomas snapped his head to attention. The brazen lassie was becoming as bossy as his lady! And worse yet, he had almost obeyed Lena and walked back down stairs with his tail a’tween his legs. This he could not have! He was the MacGregor! Thomas opened his mouth to bellow at the girl, but caught his anger in the nick of time. She was only protecting Maya in the one way she could. And besides, Lena was a good little one for the most part. Still, she had to know the MacGregor wouldn’t stand for being gainsaid a’tall. “Lena, I ha’ no intention tae growl at my wife”—that was a lie if ever he’d told one—“and even if I was tae, ye canna interfere. Do ye ken, lassie?” Lena’s face flushed crimson as she cast her embarrassed gaze to the ground. “I’m sorry cousin,” she whispered in a thoroughly chastised voice. “I dinna mean tae gainsay ye.” Thomas grunted. “I know it, lass. Now take ye off. I’ll take yer advice and let my wife sleep. I just want tae check on her.” He smiled lazily. “I’ll growl at her later.” Lena blushed again then nodded. “Thank ye, my lord. I knew ye were everything kind and good. Besides,” she added with a sweetly dimpled smile, “the sleep is best fer yer wife and bairn.” Thomas’s face turned as white as Lena’s face was red. “My what?” he all but shouted. Lena mistook his surprise as rage and paled. She drew her hand to her throat in a nervous gesture. “Ye…ye…dinna know?” she whispered, reminding Thomas by her own voice level that he needed to quiet down again. “Nay, I dinna know!” “Oh dear!” Lena looked beseechingly into his eyes and begged him not to tell Lady Maya that ‘twas her who had told her secrets. “I just assumed ye knew fer milady Maya never said otherwise. Oh please dinna tell her ‘twas me who told ye. She willna ever forgive me!” Thomas shook his head in bewilderment. A bairn? His bairn? In his lady’s belly? He smiled as a sense of peace and elation swept through his body. “I willna tell, lass. Ye ha’ my word. Now hurry along.” Lena nodded emphatically then fled from the hallway. Thomas watched his cousin bolt down the steps at lightening speed. He took in a deep
  • 91. breath and walked to his bedchamber door. A bairn. His bairn. Thomas grinned. He was going to be a father. ***** Maya awoke slowly, the grogginess she’d experienced often in the last couple of months still pulling at her. She felt sleepy enough to stay in bed for the rest of the night, but hunger pangs in her belly demanded otherwise. She needed food, and lots of it. Eyes still closed, Maya smiled to herself as she considered what she’d have for dinner. McDonalds. Mmm yeah—a Big Mac, medium fry—no large fry, a thick chocolate milkshake to wash down the salty food, and then an icy coke to wash down the thick shake. She licked her lips and practically salivated, the image of the Big Mac enough to force her to consciousness. She opened her eyes leisurely, allowing them to adjust to the faint streams of light intruding into the bedroom. She sat up slowly, still overwhelmed by exhaustion. Fred was sound asleep under the window as always, but he was sleeping in an oddly thatched deposit that she didn’t recall buying for him at the pet store... Her eyes narrowed as she struggled to command the fatigue at bay. She took a quick look around to surmise her surroundings. She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. She was in the fourteenth century. That explained Fred’s bed. John the Elder had commissioned a villager to craft it. Maya took a deep breath. “I guess this means no McDonald’s for me,” she muttered to herself in her own tongue. “What did ye say, love?” Surprised by his presence, Maya whipped her head around, only then ascertaining who the voice belonged to. Thomas. Her husband. That’s right, she had a husband. Weird what the slumbering mind forgets. Of course, she mused as she gathered herself together, she probably hadn’t wanted to remember. No doubt her husband, original party pooper that he was, was here to lecture her severely on some sin or another she’d committed. “Hello Thomas.” Thomas trailed his gaze from his wife’s face to her swollen chest. Lena was right. The woman was definitely with bairn. His Maya’s breasts had always been plump and lushly rounded, but now they were swelled beyond anything. As big as Thomas’s hands were, he’d never be able to fully cup a breast in just one of them anymore. His flesh grew immediately hard, straining against the confinement of his plaid. “How do ye feel, wife?” Maya looked down at herself when she noticed the evident arousal poking against her husband’s kilt. Only then did she realize her state of nakedness. She looked back at her husband who sat next to her in a chair he’d pulled close to the bed and smiled. “Sleepy, but good. Hungry, very hungry. Do we eat soon?” “Aye.” Maya nodded, but said nothing else. Neither did Thomas for that matter. He continued to stare at her, an oddly bemused expression on his face. She sighed. She was beginning to feel like a convicted felon awaiting sentencing. She wished he’d just get his lecture over and be done with it. “I assume you’re here to tell me what a bad girl I’ve been?” Thomas’s eyes flickered in amusement, the only indication he thought his wife’s question funny. “Aye.” Maya steadied herself, preparing to pretend as though she was listening. She mentally practiced what her responses would be, too tired to argue with the man over being caught trying to mischief-make with Argyle. Aye husband. Nay husband. Right away husband. Whatever
  • 92. you desire husband. Maya smiled. Surely one of those answers would be the correct one. When it began to look as if no lecture was soon in coming, she cocked her head and studied her husband’s stare. “Shall we get on with it then? I’m quite famished.” Thomas curled his mouth wryly, his eyes still transfixed on his wife. She was expecting an argument, was she? Well today he wouldn’t give her one. Today he was going to surprise her. This time there would be no punishments, even though she surely deserved a year’s worth of them. “I gathered from yer discussion with Argyle that ye ha’ been wantin a walk by yon lake. Why dinna ye tell me this, lass?” Maya shrugged and frowned up at her husband. “Would it have mattered? You’re determined to keep me a prisoner in my own home anyway.” Thomas frowned at Maya. A prisoner? His wife felt like a prisoner? “Nay wife, I would no’ want ye tae feel like that. I –” “You’ve a funny way of showing it.” “And you ha’ a verra bad habit of questioning my motives.” “Perhaps if you tried explaining them to me beforehand I wouldn’t question them.” Thomas grunted. Why could his woman not accept his word without wanting to know the why of it? Why could she not be like other Highlander women, blindly accepting his decisions as law? Future women were a frustration to no end. “I am yer lord and master. I should no’ ha’ tae explain myself tae ye.” Maya glared at her husband as she turned around to face him. She threw the animal pelt off from around her belly. “I cannot accept that. Surely you are aware of that by now.” Thomas sighed. She was right. He was aware of it and he knew that she was unlikely to bend from her way of thinking. And when she was naked like this, he didn’t care much for correcting her gainsaying anyway. “Maya, I –” Maya held up her hand to silence him. “Thomas, I do not care to fight with you on this. If I felt I was in the wrong, I would concede to your wishes as I’ve done a lot of lately, but I’m growing weary of conceding when I’m right. If you want me unhappy, then keep up with this. Keep forcing your will on me without justification. Keep barking and growling at me. Keep making me resent the fact that I married you. Destroy our marriage. You’re doing a fine job of it anyway.” Thomas sucked in his breath, his eyes widening in pain. “Ye will take that back,” he said hoarsely, “I willna ever destroy our marriage.” Maya dropped her gaze guiltily to her husband’s feet. Her words had upset him, hurt him even. She hadn’t meant to do that. She was just so damn tired of fighting with him. “Thomas,” she sighed, uncertain as to how she should go about setting this situation to rights, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I love you with all of my heart. But this must stop. “I’m tired of being given orders without knowing the reasoning behind them. I’m tired of being treated as though I am a lowly criminal who you fear will try to run from you at the first opportunity. I wouldn’t have married you were it my intent to leave you. I…” Maya sighed. “There’s no making you understand,” she mumbled to herself. Thomas reached for his wife’s hand and stroked it soothingly as he spoke. “Ach lassie, but I dinna ken I was making ye so unhappy. I canna be happy when ye are no’. Never did I want ye tae feel like a prisoner. I had my reasons.” He said the last with a frown, looking away from his wife while he muttered it. Her brow furrowed. “What reasons?” Thomas shrugged and sighed. He felt a strange burning sensation behind his eyes and prayed to the saints that he wasn’t about to cry. He clasped his wife’s hand tighter, piercing her with his worried look. “I canna live do ye leave me, Maya mine. I canna.”
  • 93. His voice was despondent, making Maya feel guilty. He was too strong a man to see in this state. She slowly climbed off of the bed and snuggled herself onto his lap. “Thomas, I will never leave you. Why do you doubt that?” “Ye ha’ spoke repeatedly of returning to yer future. Ye–” “No.” Maya reassured him with a shake of her head. “I changed my mind after I thought on it awhile. If I went back, I could get stuck there, never able to return home to you. I could not bear that.” Thomas drew his wife closer, kissing her roughly on the lips. “Do ye swear tae it, Maya?” “Yes.” “Then why are ye still angry with me? Why do ye no’ come tae my arms willingly anymore? Why do ye no’ fight me anymore?” Maya grinned. He missed her temper, did he? “Thomas,” she said softly, as she reached up and took a plaited braid from either side of his face between her fingers, “I’ve come to you now, have I not?” He smiled, a boyish gleam in his eyes. “Aye. And although I will take advantage of that fact in a moment, I still need tae know why ye dinna argue any longer. Ha’ I broken yer spirit so badly, wife?” Maya smiled warmheartedly at her husband. Evidently, he had worried himself over this issue for days. It was time to take her courage in hand and tell him the truth. “I’ve been too tired to argue my feelings as of late. That’s all there is to it. Believe me, when the fatigue leaves me, my tongue will lash out again.” Thomas grinned. He lowered his head and nipped at Maya’s ear with his teeth, rubbing her back as he held her. He probed with his tongue at the outer recesses of her ear, causing goose bumps to spring to life. She sucked in her breath. “Thomas,” she whimpered in a husky voice, her eyes fluttering shut. “Why ha’ ye been so tired?” he asked lazily, stroking her flesh into erotic submission. He ran his fingers over her soft belly, whispering to her in a fiercely aroused burr. “Do ye carry my bairn, love?” Maya opened her eyes and gasped, her mind struggling with the conflicting emotions of worried surprise and pleasant arousal. Arousal won. “Yes,” she whispered thickly, closing her eyes and throwing her head back so her husband could trail his hot kisses down her throat. “For two months.” “Why dinna ye tell me, love?” Maya was too turned on to think up a quick lie. She told him the truth. “I was afraid you would put more guards on me.” Thomas threw his head back and laughed, inducing his wife to break out of her languid spell. “Mayhap I still will. Though no’ tae make ye feel a prisoner. Never that.” “Then why?” Thomas grabbed Maya gently by the chin. He looked deeply into her eyes, searching their depths. “Do ye no’ ken, lass?” At Maya’s hesitant shrug, he took a deep breath then kissed her softly on the mouth. “Because I love ye with all of my heart. Because I love my bairn already. Because I canna live without either one of ye and I canna allow something tae happen tae my family.” Maya’s heart soared. He said he loved her! “Oh Thomas, I love you too. Do you not understand that I will never leave you? You do not have to post guards around me to keep me here. I am content. Even when we argue I am more content here than I ever was in the future. I wouldn’t leave even if I had the chance to.”
  • 94. “’Tis no’ that anymore, my love. ‘Tis another matter entirely.” Maya narrowed her eyes. Another matter entirely? She sat up in her husband’s lap and ran a soothing hand across his chest. “Tell me.” “Nay. I will no’ worry ye.” “Thomas, I’m more worried not knowing than I could ever be with all the facts. Please. Tell me.” Thomas sighed then nodded his head in resignation. If it took telling all to make his wife happy again, then that’s precisely what he’d do. “’Tis a rival clan, love. The MacAllisters. Their laird did see ye on the hillside the morn that I found ye and he wants tae take ye fer his own.” Maya’s eyes widened. “My God—he didn’t see me appear from nowhere did he? Does he know I’m from the future?” Thomas shook his head, denying that question emphatically. “Nay, love. I’m certain he saw ye after the fact. His want fer ye is purely lust. He tried tae take ye from my keep the night we spotted MacAllisters on our land, but we cut him off. His men are dead, but Robert MacAllister still lives. Until he is dead ye will no’ leave these walls without me.” Maya drew in a breath, clutching her hand to her heart. “Why did you not tell me this? I would have understood why I had all the guards on me had I known.” “I told ye, wife, I dinna want tae worry ye.” Maya stared at her husband in amazement for a long moment then threw her arms around his neck. “I’m sorry, Thomas. And all this time I thought you were just being a dickhead!” Thomas grunted. “Dickhead? What is dickhead?” Maya blushed. “Never mind.” Thomas arched an eyebrow as he searched his wife’s face. “I suspect a dickhead is a bad thing in yer Tampa English.” Maya grinned as she lifted her husband’s plaid to his waist and settled herself astride him. “Sometimes it’s a bad word, but sometimes,” she said as she reached down and guided his flesh toward her tight opening, “it’s a very good word.” Maya slid her buttocks down onto her husband’s thighs, enveloping his shaft within her sticky heat in the process. Thomas moaned and sucked in his breath. He placed his hands on either of her hips, guiding her body’s movements atop him. “Yes,” she groaned in a husky whisper as she began to ride him, “sometimes it’s a very good word.” She rode him hard and wantonly, her breasts jiggling with her movements. Closing her eyes, she allowed the sensations to overpower her as she pumped up and down on top of him, over and over, again and again. “Faster Maya,” he growled, meeting her thrusts with deep strokes of his own. “Ride me harder.” “God yes.” Wrapping her arms about Thomas’ neck, she used the support of his body to jiggle faster on top of him. “Mmmmm,” he burred into her ear as he grabbed the flesh of her buttocks with his hands, “who does this wee body belong tae?” “To you,” she cried. “Oh god Thomas you feel so good.” “Then fuck me harder, wife. Milk my rod.” Maya clung to him then, her eyes closed and her neck bared to him as though her body was an offering. Thomas bit down on her neck, guttural sounds emitting from his throat as she pumped his cock faster and faster. And then they were coming, holding onto each other as they climaxed, neither of them
  • 95. letting go of their hold on the other. Maya smiled into Thomas’ hair, hugging him tightly against her. It felt good to be back home in his arms again, right where she belonged. ***** Maya smiled contentedly as she lay silently next to her husband. She stroked his chest, playing with the black hairs that covered it. He was such a finely made man, physically beyond perfection. His overall musculature was huge and sleek, yet oddly comfortable. In point of fact, Thomas’s bulging left bicept had become Maya’s favorite pillow. She could spend hour upon hour with her head cushioned against his arm, staring up into his handsome face. His face was dreamy, like a warrior angel, boasting sensuous lips, an uncompromisingly stern nose, and black as sackcloth eyes. His eyes matched his dark hair flawlessly, the shoulder length thick waves swept out of his line of vision by a Celtic braid plaited at either temple. Maya’s eyes drifted downward, taking in the rest of his endowments. His chest was powerful. His stomach taut, flat, and rippled with muscle. His navel, devilishly lickable. And his cock, a category unto itself. Her husband’s shaft would have been the envy of any male porn star in the twenty-first century, Maya admitted with amusement and pride. It was thick, long, and much to her delight, generally swollen. He was a lusty man, her husband. The evening was the best they’d spent together since marrying. Thomas had ordered the meal of fish, grouse, cheese, spiced apples, and bread sent to their chamber. They spent quite a few hours making love, eating, drinking wine—watered wine in Maya’s case—and making love again. He’d taken her four times…four lusty, carnal, orgasmic, mind-shattering times. She’d never known any man with a sexual appetite as demanding as her husband’s. Not that she was complaining. Being with Thomas made any inconvenience of the rugged Highlands more than worth the trouble of it. She didn’t have running water or electricity, but she had love and passion. She didn’t have the convenience of an automobile or the internet, but she knew peace and contentment. For every singular luxury of the future she had given up, Maya could think of three treasures she’d gained. Still, there was one thing from her time that she did covet, and that was medicinal knowledge. Tylenol. Penicillin. Antibiotics. Epidurals. Maya groaned inwardly. Thank god the pain of childbirth was something she wouldn’t have to worry about for another seven months or so. If only she could convince Thomas to send Argyle and Harold to the future, then they could collect Sara’s father. Besides being a man whom both she and Sara adored to distraction, the good doctor was also an obstetrician who delivered babies for a living. The man knew how to give an epidermal with the same skill that Maya had for unearthing old bones. She sighed. She simply had to get Dr. Chance to Castle MacGregor. The pain of labor not withstanding, there was also the risk of a complicated delivery. A delivery that could kill her baby, or herself. The more she thought on it, the more frightened she became. Her voice shook slightly as she spoke. “Thomas, we have to talk about the future. Someone must go forward to it.” Thomas breathed deeply, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. “I thought ye were asleep.” “No.” “I see.” Maya sat up in bed and stared down at her reclining husband. “I know you don’t like talking of it, but we must. I’m frightened.” She shook her head, refusing to allow the building
  • 96. waterfall of tears behind her eyes to fall. Her pregnancy was not only making her tired, but overly emotional as well. “I’m so frightened.” Thomas sat up and drew his wife’s face to his chest. He stroked her back soothingly, crooning tender words to her softly. “Is it the MacAllister ye fear?” He sighed in self-loathing as he continued to cradle Maya in his embrace. “Damme, but I knew what I was aboot! I should never ha’ told ye aboot his plan in the first. Love, I willna ever let the man near ye, ye ken?” Maya smiled as she looked her husband in the eyes. “I’ve total faith in your ability to protect me.” He grunted, pleased with her reply. “My fear is something else altogether, Thomas.” “What is it, lass?” “It’s the baby, Thomas. I fear the pain of birthing. And more than that, I fear the chance of losing our baby. It’s possible in your world that both me and your baby might die.” Thomas gathered Maya forcefully to him, demanding her to not talk of such things. “Maya please, I canna bear the thought of it.” Maya drew in a breath. She prayed to the heavens, begging to be forgiven beforehand for the amount of manipulation she was about to unleash on her husband. “Thomas, if you love me and you love our child, then you will do all within your power to keep us from harm.” “Of course.” Maya nodded, then grabbed her husband’s chin, burning her gaze into his own. “Argyle and Harold are willing to go forward to bring Sara’s father to us. Let them. I beg you.” Thomas said nothing for a long moment. He studied the horrified look in his wife’s eyes and knew in that instant he’d do anything reasonable to calm her. But send his own kinsmen into an unknown world? That was asking a bit much of his graciousness. “Maya, I dinna like the worry yer feelin’, but I canna allow them tae go intae the future. What does bringing Sara’s father tae this time ha’ tae do with easing yer fears?” “Everything!” she cried as she swung around and took to her feet. She quickly donned the silk chemise she found laying on the floor of the chamber and began pacing the room frantically. “Maya!” Thomas commanded as he got out of bed to join her in the middle of the chamber, “what in the name of God is wrong with ye?” “Sara needs her father! I need her father! Our baby needs her father!” “Ye think this future mon can protect this keep better than I?” he demanded in a rage. His nostrils were flaring, his face reddening. “No!” Maya yelled, trying to calm her husband before he worked himself into one of his fits. “It’s not that, I assure you!” “Then what precisely is it, wife?” Maya flinched. She didn’t care for the menacing way he had spewed out the word wife. She took her husband’s hands and smiled up at him in a placating way. “Her father is a healer, a very good healer.” He shrugged. “We’ve healers aplenty here.” Maya released Thomas’s hands and waved them tersely through the air. “Compared to a twenty-first century healer, your healers are like babes let loose in battle. They know nothing of caring for themselves let alone being responsible for tending to another.” “I think I know a few MacGregor healers that would take offense tae that thinking.” Maya shook her head and glared at her husband. She balled her hands into fists and thrust them haughtily to either hip. “And I think I could care less! I’m not saying these things to
  • 97. make friends! I’m saying them because I don’t want to die. I want to live! I want our child to live! And we both have a far greater chance of it if Sara’s father oversees the delivery! “And forget about my own selfish reasons for a moment and think of poor Sara. I am lucky in that I had no family to speak of to be left behind. They are all dead. But what of Sara? Do you know how much she grieves for her father? Can you imagine how much he grieves for her, not knowing what became of either of us? “Can you imagine how much even I grieve for him? He thought of me as his own daughter!” Maya grabbed Thomas’s hands and clutched them firmly in her own. She had to make him understand, had to make him see things from her perspective. “Please, husband. Please. Sara’s father can keep me and the baby from death. He can take all the pain out of childbirth so I feel almost nothing. He can—” “What? He can take the pain from birthing? ‘Tis nigh unto impossible. Pain is ordained by God. ‘Tis yer duty by Eve’s sin tae feel it.” Maya ground her teeth in frustration. “Thomas, you are not even religious. Why then would you choose to believe such drivel? I took you for a smarter man than that!” Thomas stood to his full height and peered down at his wife. And to think he had missed this wench’s saucy temper! “Ye question my intelligence, woman?” Maya frowned. His use of the word woman was as contemptuous as his use of the word wife had been a moment prior. Anger overpowered her, knocking away at any hesitation she should have felt from having a man close to six and a half feet and god only knows how many pounds glowering at her. “Yes! I question it! Obviously I must if you insist I suffer in needless agony so you can uphold the primitive notions of your savage world!” Thomas blinked rapidly, unable to think up a reply to that assertion. So she thought him a primitive, eh? He smiled seductively at his wife and grabbed two fistfuls of her golden hair. “Ye dinna mind me a savage when I take ye tae my bed,” he growled. Maya hesitated, then wrapped her arms around her husband’s waist and smiled up at him. “I didn’t mean to yell—really I didn’t!” she countered when he threw her a skeptical glance. “But Thomas, so much good can come of Argyle and Harold’s trip. “They can bring back medicines that work true wonders. They can bring back silks, velvets, and spices that cost a man a king’s ransom in your day but can be bartered for almost nothing in mine. They can bring back things that will make our lives easier, Thomas. And,” she sighed, stopping to take a breath, “they can bring back Sara’s father.” Thomas pondered all that his wife said. He released the fistfuls of hair he’d procured and pointedly scratched his chin. He knew that his wife was right and that everything she had said was logical. He couldn’t risk losing her and his bairn in childbirth unnecessarily. He’d die without the sharp-tongued little witch in his bed. Still, Thomas felt the desire to goad his wife’s temper a wee bit, to pay her back for that remark about his lacking in intelligence. “Hmm, fine silks and spices ye say?” Maya huffed and hit him squarely in the chest. “Of all I just said, it’s only the silks and spices that concern you? What of our unborn baby? What of—” “Hush, love,” Thomas grinned. “I was only jesting.” Maya shook her head, then grinned back. “Promise?” Thomas chuckled as he pulled her into his arms once more. “Ye know I canna possibly turn down yer request does it mean Sara’s father can bring our babe intae the world safely. The silks and spices are but an added boon, love.” Maya smiled as she stood up on tiptoe to kiss her husband’s chin. “I think you’ve had enough of my temper for this evening and to be honest, it’s probably the most you’ll see of it for a while.” She yawned. “It exhausts me too much these days.”
  • 98. “And here I thought the added boon would be the silks.” “Be quiet, sweetcakes.” “Aye, love.” Chapter 23 Maya was as good as her word. Over the next few weeks, she didn’t show her temper once. Of course, whether that boon was because she was too tired to do so or whether ‘twas because the MacGregor had been catering to his pregnant wife’s every whim, no one could say. She was three months along, so not yet showing, but the laird was still beyond happy. Everyone at Castle MacGregor was glad for the change for it put the laird in a fine mood. After all, ‘twas common knowledge that when the Lady Maya was happy, the laird was elated. When his lady was feeling ill, he was in a restless state of worry. When the Lady MacGregor was angered, the MacGregor was as crazed as a mad animal. His moods always mirrored the mistress’ to the extreme. “Sorry about that.” Maya rose to her feet and turned toward the throng of worried faces surrounding her. She clasped her hands behind her back and smiled sweetly up at her husband, Harold, and Argyle. At their returning grins, she glanced toward Sara and Dugald. “What’s the matter? Have you never seen a pregnant woman throw up before?” Sara laughed when she noticed the flustered look written all over her betrothed’s face. “I’d wager he hasn’t, darling. But then you do seem to throw up with the same gusto and flair with which you do everything else in life…never seen a woman turn five shades of purple before losing her breakfast before.” She winked mischievously at Maya, getting the desired grin out of her. “I can hardly wait to see you in birthing.” Maya abruptly stopped grinning—and paled. “Oh dear, I didn’t mean to…that is I…” Sara sighed, unable to find the proper words. Maya held up a palm. “Forget it. We’ll get your father here in time to see to me and to your wedding.” She cocked her head and smiled up at Argyle and Harold. “I’ve every confidence.” “As tae that,” Thomas began, indicating with his gesture that the group should resume its walking now that his lady’s belly was feeling better, “I believe ye were aboot tae discuss the black clouds, were ye no’, Lady Sara?” Sara cleared her throat before addressing Thomas. “I’d feel much safer if we left these trees and talked in the open where we can be certain no one is eavesdropping. Do you agree, my lord?” Thomas nodded then led the crew of six from the cover of the forest to head toward the loch downhill. It was the third time in as many weeks that he had let Maya and Sara stroll beyond the confines of the castle with the men and they were both deeply grateful to him for it. Thomas still made it plain that Maya was never to wander without his permission and presence and she never tried to gainsay him. Now that she knew his reasons had everything to do with keeping Robert MacAllister from kidnapping her and nothing to do with a fear of her running from him, confinement didn’t seem to be such a burden. It having been decided by the MacGregor that both Harold the Sotted and Argyle would venture into the future, the group of six used their weekly stroll as a chance to speak of their plans in privacy. Today they walked into the outskirts of the forest to take a short-cut to the
  • 99. loch below it. It was beautiful to the ladies, the two of them never having seen it before. The trees were the greenest they had ever beheld, their scent balmy and wintry. “Here we are ladies.” Harold turned around and proffered a courtly bow. He and Argyle shook out the plaids and animal pelts they had carried from the keep and lowered them to the ground next to the pit that had been dug out to house a campfire in a fortnight ago. “Dugald, let us start the fire anon.” Thomas ordered. “‘Tis tae cold fer the ladies and my bairn.” Dugald inclined his head toward Maya and Sara then set off toward Thomas to help kindle the flames. The women busiedthemselves with the preparation of their picnic meal. They set out all of the foods cook had bundled up for them, including an assortment of cheeses, two different kinds of breads, grouse, and a plump apple for each of them. Maya beamed an ear to ear smile her best friend’s way. Sara grinned back. Both of them loved these weekly outings. There was nothing quite like a leisurely promenade through a Scottish forest capped off by a picnic next to a picturesque Highland loch. Even if it was colder than she didn’t know what. Thomas strode back to his wife’s side and settled himself down to the left of her. He took her hand and warmed it between his own. “Are ye warm enough, my lady, or do ye need more furs?” Maya rolled her eyes teasingly and grinned. “I already feel bundled enough. I think the four you have me in now are more than sufficient.” He grunted. Intertwining his large callused fingers through his wife’s smaller silky ones, he placed their clasped union on his thigh. Argyle plopped himself down on the other side of Maya. He thanked her for the food she offered him, then licked his lips and dug in—a new phrase of Tampa English he’d recently acquired. “Milady, I daresay I am more nervous and excited than I get even afore a fine battle against the bluidy MacAllisters. This time travelling business is a fine quest indeed.” Maya grinned. “Just don’t get anxious when the colors bind you like ropes and carry you off of the ground. I almost died from the shock of it.” Sara snorted her agreement. “I was never a’feared,” Harold announced. He scratched his beard and scowled at his own recollection. “Of course, I was also in me cups at the time.” The group laughed, inciting a chuckle from the Sotted. “Aye, this could prove tae be more interesting sober.” Thomas shook his head and grinned. He popped a wedge of cheese into his mouth and swallowed it whole. “Well then Lady Sara, as ye were aboot tae say in yon forest…” Sara cleared her throat as Harold plopped down next to her. The six of them were now huddled around the fire in a full circle. “Maya and I have done every theoretical and mathematical calculation that exists from our time on the information we gathered from Harold’s travels and our own.” At a bunch of perplexed male grunts, Sara clarified her statement further. “We, uh, we think we’ve figured the clouds out.” She plowed on since no one grunted again. “We know that in the future the black clouds have remained unseen for the most part because they are covered in the guise of a ferocious storm. In other words, they tend to accompany the storm.” “We also know,” Maya added, “that the MacGregor lands themselves are the portal to the black clouds. It is here that the clouds originate and nowhere else.” “How can ye be certain?” Thomas asked. She shrugged. “Sara and I have studied every ancient civilization imaginable and the
  • 100. MacGregor Highlander clan is the only one that ever wrote of these mysterious clouds. Believe me, had it happened in other lands, someone would have recorded it.” Dugald nodded his head, agreeing with their conclusion. “’Tis a highly reasonable assumption, my ladies.” “Yes,” Sara added, “and furthermore, the clouds on MacGregor soil do not need a storm to give them the energy to brew. They are powerful here, very powerful. Thomas, did you not say that your man Hamish saw the clouds many times without so much as a hint of a storm approaching?” “Aye.” Maya nodded. “Well then, there you have it.” “But my ladies,” Argyle prodded, deciding he wasn’t feeling altogether surefooted of their plan anymore, “how will we know when ‘tis time if there is no storm tae warn us?” Maya threw an unruly curl over her shoulder then smiled reassuringly toward Argyle. “We will wait for reports from Hamish. He doesn’t know why Thomas has requested it of him, but he does know to inform him the very moment the clouds appear. It will work. I know it will.” Harold nodded in acceptance of Maya’s theory. “And tae get home we can do naught but wait. ‘Tis our good fortune that Tampa has many storms a year tae warn us, so we willna ha’ tae return with as little preparation as we are tae go off with.” Sara nodded her head vigorously. She then cocked her head toward Harold and smiled. “Probables say you are correct. The reason more people from our time have not ended up on MacGregor lands is no doubt because most would not be so foolish as Maya and I to walk along a beach during an approaching hurricane.” The men laughed as they ate, agreeing wholeheartedly with Sara’s appraisal of the situation. Thomas glanced down at his wife and winked. “Foolish, aye, but I canna say I’m sorry for it.” Maya grinned at her husband. “Now then Argyle, Thomas has agreed to shorten your time in the lists each day so that Harold, Sara, and I can continue to instruct you in Tampa English.” Argyle swallowed a bite of apple then nodded. “Aye. And if I do say so myself, milady, I think ‘tis coming along well. I shall be able tae converse with yer people within the sennight.” Thomas grunted. “I think that when ye come back lad, I will ha’ ye instruct yer laird in this future tongue. I should like tae know the words my lady says when she’s sore at me rather than being left tae guess.” Argyle raised his fist to his mouth and coughed uncomfortably into it. “I think ye would no’ want tae know, my lord,” he muttered. Maya flushed, piercing him with a scowl. “Keep quiet, Argyle!” “Aye mila—” “Nay Argyle, dinna,” Thomas commanded. “I assume ye are talking aboot that morn tae fortnights ago when my wife stomped from the great hall spewing something or another aboot me in her tongue?” Argyle studied the animal pelts below him. He sighed apologetically. “I’m sorry milady, I was no’ thinkin’. I dinna mean tae be what yer future people might call a tattletale.” Sara laughed. “It’s alright, Argyle. Your lord and lady are no longer fighting.” She looked over to Thomas and grinned. “I’m sure the MacGregor can forgive being called”—she reverted to Tampa English and giggled—“a cock sucker.” Harold choked on his tankard of goat’s milk, the whites of his eyes turning red from too much coughing. “I canna say I remember that, lass. This must ha’ happened whilst I was still
  • 101. in me cups.” “Yes!” Maya scowled at no one in particular. She folded her arms across her chest defensively. “My curiosity overwhelms me, milady,” Dugald chuckled, “I canna ken what those words mean.” “Aye wife,” Thomas drawled through narrowed eyes, “I dinna ken what they mean either.” He glared at Maya, waiting for her answer. “Do ye care tae tell me, love?” “No!” she fumed, the smell of fear growing closer by the moment. She threw Argyle a look that promised retribution. He winced in reaction, cowering even further into the animal pelts. “Beg pardon, milady, but I vow tae make it up tae ye.” “How!” “When we know we are tae come back, the Sotted and I will stop at yer favorite dining hall and bring back those Big Macs and fries that I sometimes hear ye cry o’er in yer sleep afore I fetch ye tae break yer fast each morn.” Maya looked thoughtful, as if considering Argyle’s proposition to forgive him or not. “And a chocolate milkshake?” she muttered. “Aye.” “And coke. You cannot forget the damn coke.” “I will no’ ferget it, milady.” Maya inclined her head in acceptance of his terms. “Very well. Then I forgive you for whatever punishments I am to receive when you translate my words for my husband.” Thomas arched an eyebrow. “’Tis that bad?” “Well I don’t think so,” Maya countered, trying to ply him with a beguiling smile that he immediately recognized as false. “But you like to hand out punishments over any little offense.” She waved her hand in the air with a disapproving gesture, a gesture her husband knew to mean she was feeling defensive. “You’re always wanting to send me to my chamber over trifles.” “Well,” Thomas replied as he leaned back on his hands, “then tell me Argyle. Translate my wife’s words that I may see do I find them tae be trifles.” Argyle cleared his throat nervously, pleading with his lady through rounded eyes to forgive him. “A cock—” “Argyle please!” Maya begged. “Say no more!” “Argyle ye will continue,” the MacGregor instructed. “Aye, my lord. As I was saying, a cock—” “Wait Argyle!” Maya jumped to her feet and pleaded with her husband. “Can I at least have a running head start, Thomas? The castle doors are within sight! Your men will see me coming. Sara will go with me. Won’t you, Sara?” “Of course,” Sara answered, trying to conceal her amusement over Maya’s panic. Thomas knit his eyebrows together and scowled at his wife. “Nay, woman, ye will stay beside me whilst I hear Argyle’s words.” “Please!” Maya implored, deciding that she wasn’t above groveling. “Grant me this one request and I will not ask for another for a very long time!” Thomas deliberated in silence for the longest moment of Maya’s life before he relented. “Fine.” He flicked his wrist toward the keep. “Go.” Maya breathed a sigh of relief then grabbed Sara’s hand and dashed with her from the encampment. Dugald shook his head and laughed while he watched his mistress run as if the demons of hell were nipping fast at her heels. “I canna wait tae hear the meaning of this,
  • 102. Thomas. It canna be so bad as that.” He swept his hand in Maya’s direction to emphasize his meaning. Thomas shook his head. Certainly her words couldn’t have been displeasing enough to warrant her running off. The laird chuckled to his self then nodded to Argyle. “Pray continue, lad. Tell us what it means tae be a ‘cock sucker’.” ***** “For heavens sake, Maya, would you slow down? I’m about to fall.” Sara came to an abrupt halt, forcing Maya to do the same since they were holding hands. “Please Sara, let’s hurry. I want to bolt the bedchamber door against him!” Sara chuckled, the effort to do so considerable as she struggled to catch her breath. “Look behind you. The men are clear back there.” She motioned with her hand toward the loch. “And the castle doors are within walking distance.” Maya sighed in resignation. “You’re right. He can’t possibly catch—” “Maya!” Maya winced and turned toward the loch when she heard the bellowing war-cry ripped from her husband’s throat. Thomas was a good distance away, but was running toward her faster than a charging bull. “I don’t think I’ll be walking the rest of the way!” she squealed as she picked up her skirts and fled toward the keep. Sara blew out a labored breath and plopped down onto the grass to wait for Dugald to catch up to her. She grinned at the hilarious sight of the laird charging up the hill like a madman. Damn, but she wished she had a camera! This was definitely turning out to be a Kodak moment. ***** “Whose…the…bluidy…cock…sucker…Maya?” Thomas spoke between thrusts as he pounded his swollen flesh into his wife from behind. She was taking him on all fours, moaning as he pummeled into her sticky flesh like a battering ram. “Oh god, Thomas!” she screamed in pleasure. “I am! I am!” She threw her head back and succumbed to the most intense orgasm her husband had given her to date. There was nothing more delicious than a six foot five, two-hundred fifty-pound laird with a proportionately huge penis who was hell bent on proving his manhood. Thomas waited for his wife’s release then pulled his shaft out of her and flipped her onto her back. He brought his cock to her lips and demanded entry with a raspy command. “Prove it.” Maya peered into his glazed over eyes and smiled wantonly up at him. “Yes, my lord,” she murmured. She opened her lips and swirled her tongue around the tip then bade him to come in the rest of the way. Thomas grunted as he lowered the head of his manhood into his wife’s mouth, easing it in as slowly as possible. Maya had other plans. She grabbed Thomas by his muscled buttocks and jerked him toward her, forcing his jutting shaft to the back of her throat. A savage cry of pleasure tore from the depths of his throat as he submitted to her desire and rode his wife’s mouth in the way he often rode her body. He thrusted in and out in deep strokes, giving her as much as she’d take. She took damn near all of it. Throwing his head back, his nostrils flared and his muscles tensed.
  • 103. She sucked him into climax, milking him for all he had. His bellows of erotic fulfillment could be heard throughout the keep. She blushed, already imagining the hushed laughter of the soldiers around her when she would sit down to eat with them tonight. Maya gave up being embarrassed and smiled in silent satisfaction. Heaven have mercy! Perhaps she should call her husband names more often. Chapter 24 “Damn it to hell and back.” Maya drew her pricked finger up to her lips and sucked the trickling blood from it. This tapestry making business was trying to a woman’s nerves. But hey, she decided, when in Rome do as the Romans. And in the Middle Ages, there wasn’t much else for a woman to do besides bear children and sew. She sighed, hating that fact. Sara chuckled as she pulled Maya’s hand into her lap for a quick examination. “It’s minor, not bad at all. It could use a little antiseptic—oh dear, I forgot that doesn’t exist yet.” Maya frowned. “Add that to your list, Argyle.” When he didn’t respond immediately, she glanced in the direction of his attention. She grinned at Sara, noticing that her bodyguard didn’t hear what she’d said because he was too busy lusting after Lena. Lena was currently standing at the other side of the vast great hall directing two soldiers to hang up the last tapestry she, Maya, and Sara had woven. “Argyle,” Maya teased as she raised her hand up and down in front of his face to gain his attention. “Yoo-hoo, Argyle!” Argyle blinked a few times in rapid succession then snapped his head around to look at her. “Beg pardon, milady.” Maya and Sara chuckled at the soldier’s beat red face, inducing him to turn into a delightful shade of purple. “Why do you not wed the girl when you return from the future?” Sara asked, a delighted smile on her face. His eyes shuffled to the ground. “I canna say that the fair Lena would ha’ me, Lady Sara. She’s dowered, bein’ cousin tae the MacGregor, ye know.” Maya snorted. “Are you blind? She worships the ground that you walk on.” Argyle brightened considerably at that notion. “Ye think so?” “I know so. Argyle, you’re all the girl speaks of. Ask her before you leave.” “I canna.” Argyle took a deep breath and shook his head. “I canna,” he whispered. “But why?” Argyle looked Maya in the eyes and blew out another deep breath. “What if I canna return?” Maya and Sara frowned. They’d both been so caught up in their own selfish reasons for sending the boy into the future with Harold that neither of them had stopped to think about the sort of ramifications their eagerness could have on other people’s lives. “Then don’t go,” Maya begged him as she clasped his hand in her own. “Nay milady, I must do yer bidding. I canna—” “No!” Sara implored him as she took his other hand. “We should never have asked it of you.” Maya nodded her head in agreement. “Sara’s right. Don’t go, Argyle! We will all miss you terribly and I couldn’t live with myself if something went wrong and you never made it back to Lena. The girl has loved you for years. I can’t be responsible, even indirectly, for her
  • 104. misery.” Argyle blushed, unused to such shows of affection. “I will no’ change my mind, ladies. But I vow that I will no’ rest until I am back home.” “But Argyle,” Maya insisted, “Please–” “We will speak of this no more, milady,” Argyle interrupted, sounding matured beyond his years. “I will do yer bidding and only then will I come home.” Maya sighed, relenting. “If you insist.” “I do.” “Very well then, have it your way. But heed my words, Argyle. If you do not return within three fortnights I shall come for you myself. And when I find you I’ll kick your behind from the future to the past.” “That goes for me as well,” Sara added with a zealous nod. Argyle grinned. “My ladies do care fer me, dinna they?” Maya rolled her eyes heavenward. She grinned. “Whatever possesses us I have no idea.” ***** Thomas accepted the goblet of wine from his squire’s hand and motioned for his men to take the seats nearest him by the hearth in the great hall. His lady had already retired for the eve, the fatigue from carrying his bairn still upon her regularly. “Ye wanted tae speak with me, John?” John the Elder took a sip from his own goblet before responding. “Thank ye fer agreein’ tae see me on such short notice. And ye as well, Sir Dugald,” he acknowledged with a dip of his head. “Of course, John,” Dugald replied. “What troubles ye?” John shook his head. “Nay, ‘tisn’t that. There are no worries in yon village. Well, none in a direct way. ‘Tis aboot the MacAllister.” Thomas straightened in his chair, his muscles tensing. “Tell me.” John nodded as he set his wine down on the small table beside him. “A rumor has been circulating in the village that Robert was seen within the closure a few times. ‘Tis said he’s been making inquiries amongst the smithies and other tradesmen as tae yer lady’s habits, my lord.” Thomas frowned. “What can the mon hope tae gain from speaking with a smithy or a tradesman? They canna know what my wife is aboot.” John nodded. “The villagers agreed which is why they came tae me with their worries. They dinna ken what tae make of it.” Dugald scratched his chin and sighed. “I think the MacAllister was grasping fer anything. He’s no’ clever, that’s fer sure, but he’s no’ lackwitted enough tae question the soldiers who see Lady Maya everyday either. His only other recourse would be tae question the villagers and hope that they know something of the Lady MacGregor’s day tae day life.” “Aye,” John sighed. “’Tis my reasoning as well.” Thomas pounded his fist onto his thigh, fuming between gritted teeth. “It pains me enough tae know that the mon has avoided me thus far. And now tae hear that he’s actually walked my lands and asked my people aboot my wife? ‘Tis more than I can stomach. I canna ha’ it. I want the woods combed again.” Dugald nodded then turned his attention back to John. “I will send more men tae patrol the closure. Give word tae the villagers tae alert a kinsmen soldier should they see the MacAllister aboot.” John nodded. “’Tis done.”
  • 105. Dugald reached for his goblet of wine as he gazed over at Thomas. “Anything else, my lord?” Thomas curled his lips wryly as he toasted the men with drink. “Aye. Kill him on sight. And be quick aboot it. My lady wants tae see the fair when it arrives at yon village and I willna let her go does he still live.” John grinned. “’Tis good tae hear, my lord. The clansmen wish tae meet their lady. Most of them ha’ yet tae see her. This news will be well received.” “Nay,” Thomas countered with a raised hand. “Say naught. I dinna want—” He stopped mid-sentence and bore his stare into Dugald. Dugald smiled, then slapped his knee as he laughed. “Are ye thinking what I think ye are thinking, Thomas?” “Aye,” Thomas grinned. He returned his gaze to John and smiled. “I’ve changed my mind. Make sure the whole of the village knows of my wife’s plan tae see the fair. I want the word tae spread like wildfire, ye ken?” John was baffled for the briefest of moments. He stared at his laird quizzically until the truth hit him. The elder’s mouth slowly quirked into a lazy smile. “Ye think tae draw the MacAllister out that way?” “Aye. And we’ll be ready fer him tae. Does Robert come tae the fair, he will never leave it alive.” Chapter 25 “Are ye sure that my plan does no’ trouble ye, love? I vow ye shall be more protected than a queen at the fair, yet do ye worry and I will call the whole thing off.” Thomas peered down at his wife as they strolled hand-in-hand through the gardens. The more he had thought on his plan to capture the MacAllister using his wife as live bait, the less he liked it. He didn’t want the blackguard in the same country as his lady, let alone the same fair. Still, he could think of no other way to draw the snake from his hole. “No, Thomas. It doesn’t trouble me at all. I have every faith in your ability to protect me and I know in my heart that you wouldn’t have even suggested it if you thought there was the slightest chance something could go wrong.” Maya inhaled the scent of the trees around her, dismissing the topic. Ah, the Highlands. Had to love it. Husband and wife strolled silently in what would be a lush garden when the bloom thawed out this spring. Thomas realized that Maya didn’t take well to being cooped up in the keep for days on end, so as of late he’d made a point of taking the time to walk with her every day before the evening meal. Maya was heading into what she called her second trimester and claimed that this gave her more energy. And much to his amazement, he realized that he rather looked forward to these daily outings with his love. He’d never been one to walk around in circles without a purpose before he wed, yet did he now enjoy doing just that with his wife. They walked for another ten minutes before Maya came to an abrupt stop. “What is that, Thomas?” She pointed to a crucifix and a head marker that sat adjacent to the gardens. Laying next to the site were a bunch of bones. Thomas directed his gaze toward the vicinity in which his wife was pointing. He sucked in
  • 106. his breath and crossed himself. “Good god. ‘Tis my mother’s remains. The dogs must ha’ dug them up.” “Your mother? I didn’t know—” Maya gasped as Thomas crushed her into his side and hid her face from the view. “I’m sorry, my love. I dinna want ye overset by seein’ this.” “Thomas,” Maya croaked as she unloosed herself from his hold. “I gathered bones for a living before I married you, remember? This doesn’t trouble me.” Her husband looked down at her with quizzical eyes, not certain that he should relent. Most women didn’t like witnessing spectacles such as this one, after all. Of course, this wasn’t most women. This was Maya. He released her. The couple walked over to the desecrated grave in silence. Maya frowned as she bent over to inspect what they’d happened upon. “Dogs did not do this, Thomas.” He stared at his wife as he took in her meaning. “But the ground looks scratched up. What else but dogs?” “Oh I don’t know.” She scowled as she stood up and fisted her hands to either hip. “Perhaps a disgruntled laird doing everything he can to hurt you?” His eyes narrowed when he caught her meaning. “The MacAllister, ye say?” Maya sighed as she squatted back down over the bones. “There are no fresh teeth marks on your mother’s remains. Were dogs responsible for this disgustingly evil event, I guarantee there would be an abundance of teeth marks. These bones are clean.” Thomas’s face reddened, his nostrils flared. “I canna wait tae kill the bastard,” he announced through set teeth. Maya sighed. “After this, I can’t say I blame you.” She rose to her feet again and clasped her husband’s hand while she rubbed it soothingly. “And after all your poor mother suffered in life, to be desecrated like this in death.” She shook her head and frowned. Thomas let go of his wife’s hand and backed up a step. “What do ye mean? I’ve never spoken tae ye aboot my mother afore. Who has?” Maya shrugged. “No one. I’ve always wondered why you never talked about her, but now that I see her remains with my own eyes, I can well imagine it was because the subject still makes you grieve.” She reached for her husband’s hand, drew it to her lips, and kissed it softly. “I’m so sorry your mother was murdered.” Thomas snatched his hand back as if he’d been stung. “She was no’ murdered,” he gritted out in anger. “My mother took her own life. She was a whoor that took lovers tae her bed willingly and killed herself when the last one broke off their liaison!” Maya cocked her head and placed her hands indignantly on her hips. “Please do not ever refer to any woman, let alone your own mother, in those terms again. I won’t have it.” Thomas growled as he grabbed Maya by the wrists and drew her in closer to his body. “Ye willna gainsay me where my mum is concerned, ye ken?” Maya tore her wrists from her husband’s grasp and retreated a few paces. “Fine. I won’t mention her again. Call her what you will, but don’t say it in my presence…ye ken?” Thomas ran his fingers through his hair in agitation before he relented with a brief nod. “I’m sorry, Maya. I should never ha’ yelled at ye. Ye were right afore when ye said ‘tis a subject that grieves me sorely. I still canna bear tae think on it.” He began pacing back and forth, which gave Maya the impression that her husband wanted to speak of it, but wasn’t certain as to how he should begin. “Tell me about it, my love.” Thomas stopped pacing and stared blankly at his wife. “I’ve never spoken of it afore. In fact, only Dugald knows of this and that was because he was with me when I found out she’d taken other men tae her bed.”
  • 107. Maya gasped. “I’m so sorry. Didn’t she love your father? Was theirs not a love match?” He shook his head and frowned. “That’s the hell of it. I always thought my mother loved my father with her verra life, but then ‘twas discovered that she was sleeping with another.” “Ouch. I imagine your father didn’t take that news very well. How did he find out?” Thomas hesitated, uncertain as to whether or not he wanted to discuss this further. Finally he shrugged and told his wife what he knew. “He found out the night she killed herself. A MacAllister squire who was sent tae my da’ fer training claimed tae ha’ seen Elizabeth cavorting with a mon that verra day in the lower bailey.” “A MacAllister? Why the devil would your father believe a MacAllister?” “We were no’ enemies back then. The Hamiltons were who we fought with in those days. In fact, me da’ ha’ come from an attack on the Hamilton clan that verra day when he learned of his Elizabeth’s death…and faithlessness.” Maya sighed. What an awful thing to find out about one’s spouse. Still…“I don’t understand. So when was she attacked? After her death?” Thomas shrugged. “She was never attacked.” “Yes she was.” “Maya, I would tell ye were it otherwise. Elizabeth was no’ attacked.” Maya squinted her eyes and frowned. She had to prove that she knew what she was talking about. “Elizabeth died by repeated stabs in the area of her heart. Am I right?” Thomas’s mouth gaped open as he stared in astonishment at his wife. “How can ye know that?” She smiled sadly at her husband as she beckoned him toward his mother’s remains. “It’s what I did for a living in the future, remember? Come here and let me show you what it is I was trained to see.” Thomas hesitated for the briefest of moments then squatted down next to his wife. “Aye?” Maya pointed toward the area of Elizabeth’s remains that would have contained her heart in life. “These protective bones have been badly fragmented. It is impossible for your mother to have stabbed herself so many times—and so violently—before finally succumbing to death. “Furthermore, I can tell by the wounds that the knife slashed down at her from an angle that is impossible for her to have caused the lacerations with her own hand. These wounds were inflicted by someone else’s hand.” Maya shook her head. “Your mother did not take her own life. I’m sure of it.” Thomas stood up slowly. He spoke not a word for what seemed an eternity. If his mother’s suicide was a lie, wasn’t it also possible that her alleged infidelity was a lie as well? Mayhap the reason Elizabeth’s unfaithfulness was so shocking to him and Angus was because she hadn’t been unfaithful to begin with. Mayhap Angus had spent the remainder of his years bitter and alone for sins of Elizabeth’s that were never committed. And Elizabeth, his beloved mother—confined to the gardens in death rather than beside her husband because ‘twas believed she was too immoral for consecrated grounds. “Maya, I must take ye tae the keep,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I need tae be alone.” She looked at her husband with pity in her eyes. He sounded so broken. She nodded, laced her fingers through her husband’s, and went with him wordlessly. Maya expelled a deep breath as she reflected on all she’d learned today. Perhaps she’d heard one too many MacAllister stories lately, but the fact that it was a member of that very clan who had told Thomas’s father about his wife’s supposed affair had her mind at attention. Something about that scenario just wasn’t right.
  • 108. Chapter 26 Maya rubbed her rounded belly and licked her lips. She all but panted when the servants laid out cook’s fare before her. Everything smelled downright delicious. Heck, even the grouse was tempting these days. Now that she was in her fifth month of pregnancy, she was generally famished to the point where she often times felt like she was carrying ten babies instead of one. “Please pass the sweet rolls, Argyle.” “Aye, milady.” Argyle did as he was bid then grinned bemusedly at his mistress while she all but inhaled the fragrant bread. “Good lord, Maya,” Sara admonished with a shake of her head. “You’re going to choke on your food if you inhale it any faster.” Maya grunted then went right back to the business of attacking her trencher. Thomas and Argyle laughed. “Wife, Lady Sara is right. Ye best slow down. I promise ye that I will no’ let yer meal up and run from ye.” Maya stopped eating in mid-bite and raised a golden eyebrow. “Are you making fun of me, Thomas? I am feeding your baby, you know.” He grinned. “Aye, I know it. And I fear that the lad or lassie will no’ want tae come out do ye keep feeding them that way.” Sara chuckled at that. “I can picture the birthing now, my lord. We’ll have to coax your baby out of his mother’s womb with a leg of mutton in one hand and a sweet roll in the other.” The men howled merrily from the vision Sara’s words conjured up. Maya tore into a leg of lamb with her incisors and frowned. She held the bone up in the air and jabbed it toward her husband. “You shouldn’t make fun of your wife. It’s not my fault your baby is a pig.” Thomas held up his hands in mock surrender. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop chuckling to save his own life. “Forgive me, love. I know ‘tis my fault.” “Aye,” Argyle winked, “everything ‘tis the laird’s fault.” “Aye,” Sara teased, “we all know that.” Maya scowled at the group of people watching her with amused expressions on their faces. She poked the leg of lamb she was eating toward her husband once more. “You’re lucky I think you’re so cute.” Thomas blushed. Sara and Argyle laughed harder. Now even Maya was grinning. Turning the tables on her husband was always so much fun. “What’s a matter, my love? Have I embarrassed—” “Thomas!” The foursome stopped their ribbing and turned their attention toward the entrance of the dining hall. Dugald was fast approaching, sword in hand, looking like a man possessed. “What is it?” Thomas bellowed as he rose to his feet. “The MacAllister?” “Nay.” Dugald shook his head and sheathed his sword. “Nay, my lord, ‘tis the black clouds! Word was just sent down from Hamish!” Maya stood up, grabbing Argyle’s hand in the process. She looked to her bodyguard, watching him visibly gulp at the news. “’Tis time then?” he asked. “Aye,” Dugald announced with a nod of his head as his eyes raked over Argyle. “The Sotted waits outside fer ye, lad.” Argyle stared wide-eyed at Sir Dugald, unable to break his gaze away from the
  • 109. commander’s face. “Are you alright, Argyle?” Maya asked as she squeezed his hand. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” Argyle swallowed roughly then turned toward his lady and bent down on one knee. “I will go now, milady. I will no’ fail ye.” Maya was about to argue with him when she realized by the determined look in his eyes that there was no point in doing so. She squeezed Argyle’s hand and bade him to his feet once more. When he obeyed, she stood up on tiptoe and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. Argyle sighed dreamily, elated by his lady’s show of affection. Thomas scowled, jealous because of it. “Argyle!” he growled. “Aye, my lord?” “Let us go. Wife, ye and Sara are tae wait here fer our return.” “But Thomas,” Maya countered, wanting to go to the hillside to see Argyle and Harold off. Thomas held up a silencing hand. “Nay, wife. Ye will remain here or no one shall go.” Maya was about to protest when Sara grabbed her hand and silently pleaded with her not to do anything that might cause Thomas to change his mind. She relented, throwing her husband a stiff nod in the process. Thomas sighed as he fisted his hands on his hips. “Ye ken my reasons fer wantin’ ye tae stay in the keep, love. ‘Tis no’ tae be a tyrant.” Maya sighed. “I know.” She turned to Argyle and beseeched him through worried eyes. “Please be careful. Please come home soon.” Argyle nodded, then raised his lady’s hand to his lips and kissed it softly. “Dinna fear. I shall do yer bidding and be home afore ye birth my lord’s bairn.” Maya nodded. “Tell Harold I shall miss him.” “I will.” Argyle broke free from his lady’s grasp and followed Thomas and Dugald toward the keep’s front doors. “Watch yer lady!” Thomas threw over his shoulder to Gilfred as he left the dining hall and headed outside. “I will no’ be gone fer verra long.” ***** Maya and Sara paced back and forth before the hearth in the great hall. Sara looked expectantly up at the wall, as if she assumed a clock would be found there. She sighed when she remembered that the everyday wallclock hadn’t been invented yet. “What the hell is taking them so long?” Maya bit into a sweet roll as she continued her frenzied pacing. “I don’t know,” she confessed through a full mouth. “Damn this bread is tasty.” Sara rolled her eyes at Maya. She stopped walking and watched her best friend devour her fifth sweet roll since the men had departed from the keep. She had to smile, allaying her worry a bit. Her dearest friend was turning into an upright walking pig. The woman would eat anything that couldn’t eat her first these days. Amazing that she wasn’t as big as a house. The doors to the castle whistled open, inducing the women to turn around and watch the entrance to the great hall with anticipation. Thomas and Dugald appeared within eyeshot a moment later. The laird strode purposefully toward his wife, stopping only briefly to tell Gilfred to take his leave. Maya inhaled the last bite of sweet roll as she surveyed her husband through searching eyes. He looked pale. Her unflappable, heroic, warlord of a husband looked quite shaken up.
  • 110. She swallowed the roll despite the lump that had developed in her throat. “What is it, Thomas? What’s the matter? Didn’t it work?” she whispered. Thomas and Dugald stood there dumbfounded, neither of them able to locate their powers of speech. “Tell me before I die of curiosity!” Maya wailed. “Did it work or not?” “Please!” Sara seconded. “I cannot take the suspense any longer!” Thomas drew in a deep breath and slowly nodded to his wife. “Never ha’ I seen the likes of that, love,” he muttered. He shook his head. “Never.” Maya threw her hand over her heart to steady her breathing. “Then it worked?” Thomas swayed his head in an up and down motion, indicating the affirmative. “Aye, love. They ha’ gone from here.” Chapter 27 Thomas sat in his chair by the hearth, drinking ale from his tankard while he and Dugald mulled over the day’s events. The ladies had long since retired, both of them exhausted from all the pacing they’d done this evening while waiting on their men’s return. Thomas was quite tired himself, but far too wound up to sleep. “I ha’ tae admit, Dugald, that a part of me did no’ believe my lady’s tale. It seemed tae fanciful tae be true.” Dugald sighed as he set his tankard down. “I’m ashamed tae say that there was also a part of me that thought the same.” “There’s no denying what we saw today, my friend. Our ladies truly are from this future they ha’ spoken of.” Dugald shook his head. “’Tis a boggle, is it no’? Tae think that our women are from the year 2001! By the saints, Thomas, how can it be?” He shrugged. “I canna say. I dinna think anyone can.” “Do ye believe that Argyle and Harold will come back, or do ye think that they will want tae stay in the future when they get there?” Thomas gulped down a heaping swallow of ale and sighed. He reflected quietly for a moment, trying to sort out his feelings. “Aye, I believe they will want tae come back home, tae please the ladies if fer no other reason.” Dugald nodded. “There is that. And I know Argyle’s affections lay with Lena. I just hope ‘tis enough tae leave the future fer,” he muttered. Thomas smiled as he stood up and patted Dugald heartily on the back. “I made certain they would ha’ enough inducement tae come back home afore they took their leave.” “I dinna ken.” Thomas shrugged, grinning all the while. “They know they are tae be knighted do they return afore my bairn’s birthing.” ***** Dr. Reginald Chance held the picture frame in his hands and smiled shakily. He sat down at his desk and cried softly while the memories overwhelmed him. His girls looked so happy in that photograph. Best friends since childhood. At least they were together when they died in the worst hurricane to ever strike the east coast. For that, he
  • 111. would always be thankful to the powers that be. Still, it was little consolation. Dr. Chance set the picture frame down and picked up another. It had been the better part of a year since his girls had passed on, yet every day grew more wearisome than the last. He was alone in the world now, his wife having died years ago, and now his Sara and Maya had gone on to be with his wife. He could find happiness in nothing these days, not even in his work. Every time he helped to bring a new life into the world, he silently wondered how much time that the fates would allot to them. His wife hadn’t been given long. His girls had been given far less. Dr. Chance had turned in his resignation a month ago, then sold his house with damn near everything in it. It had been hard to do, selling his home, as it contained so many fond memories of his family’s life together. But he had to do it, for his own sanity if for no other reason. He scanned the room that was his old office wistfully, knowing that tonight would be the last time he could do so. Tomorrow the Crenshaws would be living here, creating new memories to replace the old ones. He sighed as he swiped the tears from his eyes. How could he continue to go on here though? A loud crashing sound came from the living room area, causing Reginald to jump to his feet. It sounded as if the front door had been broken down. Good god, on top of everything else was he also going to be robbed? Indifferent to the threat of death, he opened the office door and strode purposefully toward the living room. The spectacle that awaited him was not one he had bargained on. Since when did thieves brandish swords and don kilts? There were two men, one silver-headed with his age and thick of beard, the other young, blonde, and clean-shaven. Both were ominously tall and thickly roped with muscle. Both wore their hair long, with a single braid plaited at each temple. The older, more sinister looking one of the lot stepped forward and sized Reginald up. “Are ye the healer known as Chance, sire tae the fair Lady Sara?” Reginald furrowed his brow at the odd accent. His brogue was thick. The man sounded as Scottish as he looked. “Yes, I am. Or I was. My daughter is dead now.” He shifted wearily on his feet, his eyes bloodshot from crying. “What the hell are you doing in my home?” The younger, blonde Scot smiled then held out his hand in greeting. “I am called Argyle. Yer daughter is no’ dead, my lord. We are here tae take ye tae her and tae our Lady Maya.” Chapter 28 “Please don’t yell at me Dugald. You’re making me feel awful.” “Good, Sara! I’m glad I’m no’ the only one! How can ye be so bluidy calm? It makes a mon believe ye could care less fer weddin’ him!” “You know I want to wait for my father! There! Now I’m screaming too! Does this make you feel better?!” “Aye, it bluidy well does! I’m thinkin’ that–” “Enough.” The one word, uttered quietly yet forcefully by the MacGregor put an instant halt to their squabbling. Thomas glowered at Dugald as he jabbed his dagger into a piece of grouse. “Ye are both ruining the meal fer everyone at the table. Break yer fast peaceably and quit shrieking like tae bluidy shrews.”
  • 112. Maya glanced up wide-eyed at her husband, but didn’t contradict him. Sara and Dugald had been at each other’s throats for almost a full week. Apparently her husband was as wearisome of the couple’s constant battling as she herself was. “I’m sorry, Thomas,” Sara countered, “but I didn’t start it.” The MacGregor shook his head in frustration, as vexed with Sara as he was with Dugald. “Nay, ye dinna lass, yet can I understand my commander’s upset. Harold and Argyle ha’ been gone fer four straight fortnights. ‘Tis possible that they willna return. Will ye put off marrying Dugald forever?” Sara arched her back as rigid as a lance. She threw a scathing look at Maya and frowned. “I suppose you agree?” Maya glanced up from her trencher and darted her eyes between Dugald, Sara, and her husband. She chewed slowly, saying nothing. Finally, she sighed and nodded her head. “Sweetheart, I know you want Daddy C to see you get married, but Thomas is right. It’s time to be realistic.” “But Maya—” “No, Sara,” she interrupted. “Be realistic.” Maya lowered her voice so no one save those at the table could hear her next words. “It’s no secret around this keep that you may be carrying his child.” Sara had the grace to blush. She closed her eyes and lowered her head. “I am,” she whispered thickly. “And I’m terrified.” “Sara, love,” Dugald crooned, “ye carry my bairn?” His lips arched into an arrogant smile as he reached across the table and stroked her hands. “Uh huh,” she admitted. “I am.” “Then ‘tis settled,” Thomas instantly decided, making it clear with his uncompromising tone of voice that he would listen to no counter-arguments. “Ye will wed with Dugald the soonest. Start planning the celebration in posthaste.” “Why do ye look so grave, milady? Dinna ye want tae ha’ my bairn?” Sara shot her head up and smiled at Dugald through tear glistened eyes. “Of course I do,” she vowed. She shrugged helplessly. “But I’m scared to death to birth it.” Maya laughed, rubbing her well-rounded belly as she did. She shook her head and grinned. “No sweetcakes, this is scared!” She ignored the chuckles her comment elicited and plowed onward. “Sara, unlike me who is as big as a keep at seven months, you can’t be more than one month along. That I know for a fact. If you want to give your dad more time to get here, plan the wedding for the last possible moment, until you’re close to showing, but at least plan for it! You’re not being fair to Sir Dugald and you know it as well as everyone else sitting at this table knows it!” Sara nodded as she contemplated the pros and cons of saying yes. To say yes meant that she would proceed with her nuptials whether her father arrived in time to witness them or not. To say no would mean that her child could end up carrying the tag of bastard, a virtual scarlet letter in the fourteenth century. No, she couldn’t afford to be selfish. She wouldn’t do that to her baby. “Okay,” she relented, “we’ll plan.” And at Dugald’s triumphant grin she added, “but I am setting the date for three months away. Unlike the rest of you, I still believe that they will return and I will not deprive my father of the chance to see me to the chapel doors.” “And if they dinna return?” Thomas inquired. “Then we will still proceed as planned,” Sara promised. “I don’t want my child to carry the label of bastard in your world.” The MacGregor nodded. “’Tis settled then, this.”
  • 113. “Aye,” Dugald beamed, “’tis settled.” ***** “What the hell is he doing? He’s been hogging the bathroom for an hour now. I need to shower!” Harold glanced up from the sword he’d been polishing and regarded Reginald thoughtfully. He darted his eyes toward the motel room’s bathroom door and back. “Ye know how the lad is aboot his girlie books. Ye go figure what the lad is doin’ in yon bathing chamber.” Reginald winced, eyeing the door thoughtfully. “Never mind,” he muttered. “I no longer have the desire to bathe in there.” Harold grunted, returning to his sword polishing. An hour later, Harold was as chaffed with Argyle as Reginald was. “How much seed can one mon spill, lad?” He pounded on the bathroom door, shouting at the top of his lungs. “Come out from there! Argyle! I ha’ tae make pee-pee in yon toilet!” Reginald glared at the door as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I am beginning to think it would be wise to rent two rooms instead of just one.” “Nay,” Harold denied insistently, “’tis a waste of good coin.” And then, “Argyle! Ye will retire from the bathing chamber afore I set fire tae every last one of yer bluidy books!” A moment later, Argyle emerged from the bathroom looking as sated as an Arab pasha freshly returned from his harem’s pleasures. He sighed contentedly as he headed straight for the bed and plopped down onto it to snuggle into the covers. “As we say in the future, Sotted, ye may go ‘shake the weasel’.” Harold strode through the bathroom door with the speed of a destrier in pursuit of the enemy. “If ye keep up with them books lad, ye willna ha’ a weasel left tae shake,” he shouted over his shoulder. Reginald fell into the chair nearest the television set and glowered at nothing in particular. “How the hell did I ever end up wasting away my retirement with these two idiots?” he mumbled. ***** “Sara?” “Yes, Maya?” “I’m beginning to think it’s time to start looking in the village for a midwife.” Sara looked up from the tapestry she, Maya, and Lena were sewing and smiled sweetly to her best friend. Maya was now in her eighth month and growing more and more frightened with each passing day. “It will be all right, Maya. He’ll come, I know he will.” “Lady Sara is right,” Lena announced. “I know that Argyle will return in all speed. Mayhap the sailing is rough in the ocean fer this time of year.” Maya fumbled with her needle then speared it into the tapestry. “Rough,” she muttered wearily. “I’m sure you’re right.” ***** “What did the weather reports say?” Reginald put the question to Harold as he plunked down into the chair next to him. He accepted a can of Budweiser from Argyle who was seated at his other side as he waited in anticipation for Harold’s impending answer. The Sotted switched off the television set with the remote control and turned his gaze toward the doctor. He picked up his glass of juice from the table and took a healthy swallow.
  • 114. “The storm is brewing off the coast of Africa. ‘Tis expected in tae weeks. We’ve one fortnight tae prepare.” “Then we best ready ourselves,” Argyle decided as he unwrapped a quarter-pounder with cheese and wolfed it down in three bites. Through a full mouth he proclaimed, “By the saints, how I will miss these tasty concoctions.” “I willna miss watchin’ ye eat them, that is fer a certainty.” “Ye criticize everything I do, Sotted!” Argyle placed his hands indignantly on his hips. “Ye are beginning tae make me suffer from an inferiority complex!” “Where in the blazes did ye pick up such an idea as that, lad?” Reginald sighed and shook his head. “When he’s not lusting over some woman on the Playboy channel, he’s busy lusting over Oprah.” “Who in the name of almighty God is this Oprah?” Harold asked. Argyle rolled his eyes sentimentally toward the heavens. “’Tis the name of a Nubian goddess,” he sighed romantically. Reginald rolled his eyes and shot to his feet. “She’s rich as Midas and way out of your league.” He placed his hands on his hips and peered down at the two sitting Scotsmen. “I’m going for a walk. I cannot stand being penned up in this cage with the two of you a moment longer. Between your sex drive,”—he threw an agitated hand Argyle’s way—“and your yelling,”—he heaved his other hand toward Harold—“I never know a minute’s peace around this sorry place.” “Quit yer cryin’, Reggie,” Harold countered with a bellow. “I’ve seen many a better day me self!” “I somehow doubt that.” Reginald headed for the motel room door, turning around to glower only after he’d reached it. “And don’t,” he added through narrowed eyes and inflamed nostrils, “call me Reggie!” ***** Maya found Sara atop the battlements, peering morosely out into the night. She was dressed in a wispy gown made of red silk, her long raven hair unbound and spilling down to her waist. The moonlight reflected off of her tresses, casting a bluish tint to it. Maya had happened upon her best friend each night for the past week in this very place. She didn’t kid herself. She knew what Sara was doing. She was waiting and watching, hoping that eventually she’d get lucky and spot her father en route to Castle MacGregor. Maya waddled up to Sara’s side and stood next to her, gazing out into the black night. She said nothing, merely watched the stars twinkle as they seemed to do only on MacGregor soil, waiting for Sara to speak first. If she wanted to remain silent, she wouldn’t press the issue. Sara was beginning to look as hopeless and forlorn as Maya felt. She reached over and grabbed her hand, clasping it tightly into her own. Long minutes passed by spent in silence, the sounds of the Scottish night eerily placid in the rugged Highlander terrain. Maya drew the hood of her cloak around her face, the summer’s midnight air growing chilled from the faint gusts of wind swirling about them. “Maya?” “Yes, Sara?” “Find that midwife.”
  • 115. Chapter 29 Maya stared up at the ceiling as she lay in bed next to her dozing husband. She clutched the large ruby stone her husband had given her during their courtship to her breast. She was almost a full nine months along. It was more than feasible that Harold and Argyle were as good as stuck in 2001 and that she would be forced to deliver her baby the very old fashioned way. No drugs. No painkillers of any sort. Just total and unadulterated heaving, screaming, pushing, and praying. All she could do at this point in the game was pray to God and to all of Thomas’s saints that she and her baby would make it through the delivery with flying colors. Her husband wouldn’t be able to bear it if she and the baby died. And she wouldn’t be able to rest peacefully in the afterlife knowing her husband was distraught in this one. Thomas rolled onto his side a few minutes later and tucked his wife in the fold of his arm, breaking Maya out of her languorous state. He ran his hand over her swollen belly and smiled down to her, still groggy from last night’s sleep. “Good morning, my loves.” Maya tilted her face upward and smiled. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?” “Aye. Did ye and my bairn?” “Yes.” “Good.” Maya reached for her husband’s hand and laced her fingers through his. He kissed her on the belly then raised their clasped hands to his lips and placed a warm kiss on her fingers. “What is wrong, lass?” “Nothing.” She sighed. “Nothing. Just hold me, Thomas.” The MacGregor drew his wife closer and hugged her lovingly to his side. “The fair is today, my love. That should make ye verra happy.” Maya smiled up at her worried husband with a serenity she was far from feeling and nodded. “Yes, Thomas. Just hold me in the mean time.” ***** A few hours later, Maya admitted to herself that the fair was doing wonders for uplifting her forlorn mood. There was so much to see, so many villagers to meet, and much to her never-ending delight, so many different foods to eat. The only thing that soured an otherwise sweet occasion was the fact that MacGregor soldiers surrounded her at every side. She looked like a princess with her frock of bodyguards about her. Thomas had insisted that five guards personally escort her through the throng of fair goers, while an even larger contingent guarded the grounds. How her husband hoped to draw out Robert MacAllister with all of these men looming around was beyond her fathoming capabilities. Not that she was looking forward to the inevitable showdown in the least. “’Tis an honor tae at last make yer acquaintance, milady. Ye ha’ met my husband Stephen, as he’s one of the MacGregor’s men, but I ha’ no’ had the pleasure of meeting ye myself.” Maya smiled warmly at the young woman who had introduced herself as Margaret. She was as heavy with child as Maya was, but didn’t appear to be worried over the impending birthing in the slightest. How she wished she had this woman’s fortitude of character! “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Margaret. I hope to get to know you better. Please feel free to come up to the keep anytime, any day.” “I should never impose,” Margaret blushed. She laughed warmly as she grinned at Maya. “My husband would sooner ha’ my head than allow me tae presume on the laird’s hospitality!”
  • 116. “Nonsense!” Maya assured her with a gleaming, white-toothed smiled. “You would be my guest and therefore welcomed at any time. Sara and I could use the company. Besides,” she added with a shrug, “our babies are due at roughly the same time. Perhaps they can become playmates!” Margaret laughed joyously, nodding her head up and down. “I should like that, milady. I better go, as my husband has been looking forward tae eating the foods here fer the last sennight.” “It was nice meeting you, Margaret,” Sara announced with a smile. “Likewise, Lady Sara. ‘Twas nice tae meet both of ye.” Margaret waved a friendly hand of departure as she strolled back toward her husband’s side. Maya glanced toward Sara and grinned. “She’s nice, isn’t she?” “Yes, very.” The women proceeded to explore more of the fair, stopping every so often to talk to another villager or to indulge in the variety of sweet treats being hocked by the travelling merchants. Maya quickly decided that she was going to have cook prepare sugar-rolled ginger candies as often as possible. She wolfed down her fifth one, pointing out to Sara another booth she wished to visit in the process. Half an hour later, Thomas and Dugald caught up with their women at a booth where they were even now engrossed in conversation with a craftsman. Neither of the women was aware of their men’s presence as of yet. The old man running the booth had fashioned all sorts of eye-catching vases and stained glass creations from assorted pottery and shades of glass he’d acquired during his travels. “I would probably need about fifty to one hundred pieces,” Maya told the old man. “Do you really think you could complete so much work by the end of December?” Sara asked skeptically, wrinkling her nose. “It’s only a few months away.” The old man nodded his head vigorously, obviously delighted at the prospect of gaining steady work. “Aye, my ladies. I would work night and day do I need tae. No’ only can I forge the glass, but I ha’ the training of the smithy as well. And I would be honored tae take up residence in the MacGregor’s hall. I ha’ no family left tae speak of, so I dinna need but a floor tae sleep on.” “Nonsense,” Maya announced with a wave of her hand. “I would never think of putting you on the floor. You’ll get your own room and three meals a day along with your commission.” Thomas raised an eyebrow. There were plenty of spare rooms in the keep, more even than he knew of most likely, but he didn’t appreciate his wife giving out chambers in his home without asking his permission first. “That is verra kind of ye, milady,” the craftsman flushed, “but mayhap ye should speak tae the laird afore ye offer me such a reward.” Thomas nodded grimly. At least the old man understood the way of things. “I already have his permission,” Maya insisted with a dismissive shrug. Thomas glared at his wife’s back as he assumed his most challenging stance. “Oh do ye now, wife?” Maya whirled around at the sound of her husband’s voice. Instead of showing the proper amount of dread she should have summoned after being caught telling a lie, she actually looked happy to see him, he mused. “Thomas!” she exclaimed as she grabbed his hand and drew him up to her side. “I want you to meet someone. His name is Hamish, just like the MacGregor herder.” She beamed a smile his way. “Isn’t that neat?”
  • 117. Thomas shrugged. He knew what his wife’s Tampa English word neat meant, but he didn’t see why this discovery was thus. Many Scottish men were named Hamish, after all. Apparently his wife didn’t know as much, so he said nothing. “Hamish,” he acknowledged with a brief jerk of his head. “My lord,” Hamish countered with a reverent bow. Maya squeezed her husband’s hand in excitement. “Sara and I have finally found a man who has the talent to fashion the ornaments that will go on our Christmas tree this year! Isn’t that great?” Dugald inched his way in between Maya and Sara. “Christmas tree?” “Don’t you two remember?” Maya asked, eyeing them both. Thomas shrugged. “Apparently not. What am I tae remember?” Maya scowled at her husband, releasing his hand at once. Sara smiled up at the laird and spoke quickly, hoping to avoid any scenes Maya might cause if she thought that her husband had backed down from his word. “Thomas, you promised your wife last Christmas day that this year we would celebrate the holiday according to the traditions of our homeland, stockings and pine trees both. You told Maya that if she could find a craftsman with a talent for creating the ornaments she desired for the pine tree in the great hall, that she could invite him to stay at the keep.” Thomas’s jaw dropped open as his memory was jarred. His wee wife hadn’t told a lie after all. He was the one who had jumped to the wrong conclusion. “Ah so I did. Forgive me, love. Then this is the mon who can make the ornaments tae yer specifications?” Maya grinned up at her husband, her enthusiasm returned. “Uh huh. Look at his work,” she insisted with a swipe of her hand toward the booth’s table. “He’s brilliant!” Hamish’s face shown crimson as he shuffled awkwardly back and forth on his feet. “Yer praise makes an old mon feel worthy, milady.” Maya shook her head, turning her delighted smile the craftsman’s way. “We’re the ones who are lucky to have found you. So,” she continued, “you can pack up your things and report to the keep at any time you’re ready. Gilfred here will have one of the servants ready your chamber. Isn’t that right, Gilfred?” The young squire approached his lady and nodded. “Aye, milady. I’ll see it done me self.” “Thank-you, Gilfred, I–” Maya paused mid-sentence. Her exuberant smile faded, replaced by a paled look. “What is it, love?” Thomas’s heartbeat accelerated as he reached out to steady his wife. Maya gazed up at her husband and forced a look of calm on her face. “It’s time,” she whispered. Sara’s eyes widened to the shape of full moons. “The baby?” she shrieked. Maya nodded. Thomas picked his wife up and cradled her into the protection of his arms. “Let us get her tae the keep,” he yelled over his shoulder to his men as he made his way through the parting crowd. ***** Robert MacAllister watched the MacGregor carry his wife from the fair toward MacGregor castle at top speed. He scowled. Damn the man! He was making it impossible to get near the comely bitch! He ran his hands through his hair in agitation as he considered his next move. ‘Twas bleakly apparent that the MacGregor would never relax his wife’s guard so long as he believed him alive. If Thomas didn’t think him dead, he’d never get close enough to the castle to
  • 118. penetrate it. Robert knew of a way to breech the MacGregor fortress, an abandoned evacuation route he’d meandered upon while squiring for Angus MacGregor in his youth. He’d killed Elizabeth through that route. He would kill the current Lady MacGregor through that route as well. And just like Elizabeth, he’d ride between the bitch’s legs first. Mayhap she wouldn’t welcome his violent thrusts any more than Elizabeth had. Robert shrugged. ‘Twas of no import. The resistance always made victory all the sweeter. The question as Robert saw it was not what would happen to the lady once he obtained her, but how he would go about setting his plans into motion. How could he make the MacGregor believe him to be dead? How could he stage his own demise so he could get close enough to the castle to find his way in? Robert scratched his head, the lice making his scalp sore from prolonged habitation. Then he smiled slowly, the first glimmer of real hope he’d entertained in months. He picked a festering larva off his head and crushed it between his blackened fingernails. Ah yes. He knew exactly what he had to do. Chapter 30 Sara took the wet towel the midwife handed her and wiped it soothingly across Maya’s brow. “Your contractions are roughly fifteen minutes apart, darling.” She shook her head restively, thinking how much easier it would be to know for certain if only she’d had the foresight to have been wearing a watch when she and Maya had been taken by the black clouds. “You still have quite a ways to go.” “Terrific,” Maya retorted sarcastically. She ground her teeth. “There’s nothing quite like prolonging the agony for as long as possible.” The midwife Maris clucked her tongue. “’Tis part of life, this pain, and ‘twill be over afore ye know it. Ye ha’ hips round enough tae bring a healthy bairn intae the world and ye are as strong as an ox. Ye ha’ no reason tae fear.” Maya wrinkled her brow and looked expectantly up at Maris. “Do you really believe that?” “Aye,” she predicted with a nod of her head. “Now if only we could get yer countenance tae be in the same good shape as yer body, we’d all be passing fair.” Sara chuckled. Maya frowned, then winced as she prepared herself for another contraction. “You’re lucky I like you, Maris,” she warned. “I’m not in a good mood today.” “Ye dinna say?” Maris clucked her tongue in the motherly way she had about her and shook her head again. Maya flushed, feeling properly chastised. There was something about the midwife that commanded respect and made her trust in her healing capabilities. Perhaps it was the fact that Maris had to be in her fifties, yet unlike most fourteenth century people of her age, she still possessed all of her teeth and held her regal back up straight as an arrow. The woman had bore ten children, yet her body looked as fresh and well kept as a woman half her age. She was the embodiment of all things healthy. She gave Maya hope that a woman could bear many children and still live out her life robustly in this time.
  • 119. A contraction seized Maya’s stomach, causing her to double over in pain. Maris rubbed her back and cooed soothingly to her while Sara gripped her hands to steady her until the intensity wore down. “They are growing closer together,” Sara whispered, excitement and dread warring in her body simultaneously. Downstairs in the great hall, Thomas blanched as he listened to his wife’s bellows of pain. He’d never felt so powerless, so completely lost, in all his days. If only Argyle and Harold had managed to acquire Lord Chance in time for the birthing then he wouldn’t be so worried. Dugald walked closer to the pacing laird and patted him on the back. “She will be fine, Thomas. She’s a strong lass, yer wife.” The laird stopped pacing long enough to sigh and run his hands through his hair. “Keep tellin’ me so, my friend,” he said quietly as he resumed his stiff walking. “Please keep tellin’ me so.” ***** “You two are crazy! I am not—I repeat not—walking any closer to that damned hurricane!” Dr. Reginald Chance put his hands on his hips and scowled ferociously at Argyle and Harold. “Furthermore, I feel like a blasted idiot dressed like this. If we die on this beach, I do not want to be found wearing a skirt!” He frowned, motioning down to the MacGregor plaid Harold had forced him to don at swordpoint this morning. “’Tis no’ a skirt!” Argyle countered with as fierce a frown as Reginald’s. “’Tis the plaid of the MacGregor and ye should be feelin’ honored this day tae be wearing it!” “Well excuuuuse me, but I don’t! I feel like a goddamned transvestite!” “A what?” “A transvestite!” "What is transvestite?" "It's a–” “Enough!” Harold held up a silencing hand then shook his finger accusingly at Reginald. “Ye ha’ held us up long enough. Do ye want tae see yer daughter again or no?” Reginald’s stiff body went limp, his shoulders sagging. “I can’t believe I allowed you two to delude me like this,” he gritted out. “My girl is dead. Why must you make me suffer more?” “Ye will know do we lie in a few minutes more,” Harold stated with a wave of his hand. “Ye ha’ nothing tae lose and a family tae gain by cooperatin’ with us.” “I have my life to lose if the hurricane kills us all!” Harold shrugged his shoulders. “And will that be so bad?” he asked quietly. “What ha’ ye tae live fer now, Reggie?” Reginald straightened his posture and glared at his two captors. “Not a goddamned thing.” ***** Maya squeezed Sara’s hand tightly as another contraction bore down on her. Sara looked up at Maris and swallowed nervously. “They are growing closer. How much longer do you think it will take?” “Our lady will be a mum within the hour.” ***** “Jesus H Christ!” Reginald shouted that and a few more choice obscenities as he was pulled off of his feet and roped into the air by a band of brilliant pink color. “What the fuck is this?”
  • 120. Argyle covered his eyes with his hands and prayed to every saint he could name for a safe landing. Harold scowled at him, rolling his eyes in vexation. “Why are ye covering yer eyes, lad?” he roared. “Ye know what will happen!” “I’m afraid of heights,” Argyle admitted, his eyes squinted shut as firmly as possible. Harold shook his head and sighed. This had been the longest eight fortnights of his entire wretched life. Chapter 31 The sound of Maya’s gut wrenching screams caused Thomas to clap his hands over his ears. How could a woman survive such tortures? Enticing Adam to eat one damned apple couldn’t have been a vile enough of a sin to condemn all of womankind to this madness. The MacGregor dropped heavily into his favorite chair by the hearth in the great hall. He accepted the tankard of ale Dugald handed him with grim resignation. Dugald sank into a chair next to his and sighed. “John the Elder just spoke with the midwife outside yer bedchamber. Maris says ‘twill be over soon.” Thomas nodded, but said nothing. He drank from his tankard then set it aside. He closed his eyes and prayed, crossing his self twice for good measure. Let my wife and bairn live, he silently begged the heavens. ‘Tis all I ask. “My lord!” John the Elder ran breathlessly into the great hall and smiled at his laird. “Argyle and the Sotted ha’ returned! They are approaching!” Thomas and Dugald shot up out of their chairs as if they had been set on fire. “Is anyone with them?” Dugald bellowed. “Aye,” John laughed. “I believe they ha’ acquired the Lady Sara’s sire from that distant land yer women herald from!” Thomas let out a breath he suspected he’d been holding since his wife’s pains first began. “Bring them tae me in posthaste, John!” “Aye, milord.” ***** Maya took a deep breath, then gritted her teeth. Maris had told her it was almost time to push. She wanted to push now. She wanted it over. She felt as if she was being slowly tortured to death. “It’s okay, darling,” Sara crooned as she wiped the sweat from Maya’s brow. “You’re doing wonderfully.” “How the hell would you know?” she dramatically wailed, all but crying from the agony of it all. Maris clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Pay no attention tae our lady, Sara. ‘Tis common during birthin’, this anger.” Sara smiled patiently down to Maya, which made Maya want to throttle her all the more. “I’m glad someone can find a reason to smile around here,” she muttered. The door to the bedchamber burst open a moment later. “We’re having a baby in here!” Sara chided as she rose to her feet. “Whoever that is had better—” Sara froze in her tracks and clutched her heart. “Sara?” Reginald whispered in disbelief, as he stepped inside of the room and looked his daughter up and down.
  • 121. “Daddy?” she asked, her voice weak. She ambled toward him slowly, a smile quickly replacing her frown. “Daddy!” She ran into Reginald’s embrace and threw her arms around his neck. “Daddy!” she laughed as her father scooped her up off of the floor and twirled her around. “This is all quite touching,” Maya hissed venomously from her bed. “Now if the two of you can save this reunion for later, I’m in need of Daddy C’s services!” “Maya!” Reginald beamed as he set his daughter down. “I’d recognize that troll’s tongue anywhere!” “You’re too late to stop the pain, but you can at least help Maris with the birthing.” Maya screamed as another contraction clutched her stomach. “’Tis time tae push,” Maris announcedas she bade Sara to close the bedchamber door. Reginald strolled up to Maris’ side and bowed. He grabbed her hand and kissed it gently. “I am Sara’s father, my lovely lady. And who might you be?” The midwife blushed profusely as she offered her hand up to Reginald’s lips. “I am called Maris, my lord.” “Daddy, I didn’t know you spoke Gaelic.” Sara smiled warmly at her father as she strolled back over to Maya’s side. Reginald shrugged. “Frick and Frack made me learn it while we were waiting on that hurricane.” Maya rolled her eyes. “Hello! Hello!” she yelled. “I think I might be having a baby over here!” She sat up in bed and clenched her teeth. “Perhaps you, Sara, can save the pleasantries for later. And perhaps you, Daddy C, can seduce my midwife after you deliver my baby!” Reginald and Maris clucked their tongues and shook their heads in unison. “Cheeky little thing, isn’t she?” ***** Argyle and Harold enjoyed a hero’s welcome below in the great hall. Though none of the kinsmen save the laird and Sir Dugald knew of their true destination, the men of clan MacGregor were still aware that they’d braved a fierce journey to acquire Lord Chance, as well as the multitude of spoils they boasted they would show to the lot later. Thomas was enjoying a fine ale called Budweiser that was given to him by Argyle in a strange can made of tin. ‘Twas passing fair, he had to admit. After the initial homecoming was spent, the men in the room gathered around the hearth and waited quietly with their cans of ale for news of the laird’s wife and bairn. Thomas stared at the faces surrounding him and reflected appreciatively on what the heavens had given to him. There was John, a man he’d known since his mother had birthed him. There was Dugald, a loyal friend since childhood. There was Argyle, an orphaned lad he’d had the privilege of raising into a fine man. And then there was Harold, a man he’d known a score of years who had recently ingratiated himself into his family. And soon, any moment now, he was to be a father. Thomas blinked rapidly, forcing the tears burning behind his eyes at bay. Maris appeared a moment later. She walked gracefully from the top of the stairs and headed in the laird’s direction. Thomas rose to his feet and watched the midwife’s descent with the same keen interest as his men. All were quiet, not a word spoken. After what seemed an eternity, Maris finally came to a halt in front of Thomas and smiled. “Congratulations, my lord. Ye are the father t’ tae healthy bairns!” “Tae?!” The question was ripped from five sets of lips.
  • 122. Maris laughed delightedly as she reached for Thomas’s hand. “Yer son was born first and yer daughter soon after.” Cheers went up in the hall as Thomas pulled Maris to his side and kissed her roughly on the cheek. He raised his can of Budweiser to his men, as well as to the other servants who were gathering around with smiles on their faces. “A son and a daughter!” he bellowed. “I name them this day Angus and Elizabeth, after me da’ and mum!” Another chorus of cheers sounded throughout the keep. Thomas downed his ale in one gulp, threw the can to Argyle, and made his way toward the stairs. ‘Twas time to see his wife and bairns. Chapter 32 “You named my son Angus?” “’Tis a fine Scottish name, love.” “I hate it! I refuse to call my son by that horrid name!” “Ye will call my son by his name– Angus!” “Now children,” Reginald intervened. “It’s not good to fight like this. Maya just gave birth.” He tucked his arms across his chest and scowled at the couple. When Thomas’s face flushed appropriately red, Reginald grunted in satisfaction, then turned and escorted Sara from the room, leaving the squabbling spouses to their own devices. Maya frowned up at her husband as she took her son from his arms and placed him at her breast. When Angus was securely suckling at one nipple, she motioned for Thomas to hand over Elizabeth. Thomas kissed his daughter on the head then placed her at her mother’s other breast. Maya smiled at her babies. She couldn’t believe these tiny little angels were hers. Thomas watched his bairns drink from their mother’s bosom and swiped at the tears that fell from his eyes. This was happiness. This was what it felt like to be a whole man. Maya glanced up at her husband and smiled contentedly. Her heart turned over at the sight of his tears. “I guess Angus isn’t so bad of a name,” she quietly relented. Thomas smiled as he sat down on the bed next to his wife. “Ye ha’ convinced me of my mother’s innocence, my love. Me mum and da’ were forced apart by trickery, ‘tis the least I can do tae make it right.” Maya sighed, then nodded in resignation. How could she argue with logic like that? Angus and Elizabeth MacGregor it would be. ***** Argyle and Harold visited Lady Maya an hour later, regaling her with all manner of exciting stories of their escapades in the Tampa clan. Argyle held little Angus in his arms while Harold cooed and coddled to little Elizabeth. “’Tis amusing, milady, that after only a couple hours of life our heir already carries the look of the laird whilst sweet Elizabeth resembles ye.” Sara chuckled, agreeing wholeheartedly. She walked closer to the bed, Dugald right behind her, and handed Maya her second chocolate milkshake since she’d given birth. “Twins usually look more alike.” Maya licked her lips and greedily accepted the milkshake, not responding to her best friend’s commentary.
  • 123. “Save some of that concoction for me, love,” Thomas scolded as he reached out to snatch the cup from her. He took a large swig then swiped his mouth and sighed. “’Tis good, this chocolate.” Maya giggled, wrestling her milkshake back in the process. “I’ve earned this.” “True enough, wife. So tell me,” Thomas insisted with a sweep of his hand toward Argyle and Harold, “did ye enjoy yer adventure intae the future?” Argyle shook his head up and down vigorously. “’Twas more wonderful than I can say, milord.” “I imagine so.” “Do you want to go back?” Maya asked quietly, praying the answer was no. She had missed her friends more than she could put into words. “Nay, milady,” Argyle announced. “’Twas an experience I shall never forget, yet is my home here.” “Aye,” Harold seconded. “I picked up a few more ideas fer me love ballads whilst in the future, but my place is here as well.” Maya grinned wickedly at Sara. “Will you be singing them at our dear Sara’s wedding reception?” Sara’s eyes grew wide, making Maya throw her head back and laugh. “Please Harold,” Sara murmured, “be nice.” Harold winked at Lady Maya then grinned at Sara. “As they say in yon future, milady, what is good fer the goose is good fer the gander.” Sara groaned, clapping her hand to her forehead. Everyone else laughed. A moment later Maris and Reginald strolled into the bedchamber. The midwife clucked her tongue and shook her head at Maya. “What did I do wrong now, Maris?” “The bairns need their sleep. I ken everyone is happy tae make their acquaintances, but hand them o’er tae me and Lord Chance. We shall put them in yon cradles.” Maya nodded, gesturing toward Harold and Argyle to release the babes to the midwife and doctor. “I’ll get dressed as soon as everyone leaves. Harold and Argyle, I shall meet you downstairs in a few minutes.” She grinned then reached over to the table beside her bed and swiped up a deck of cards. “I’ve missed my poker buddies more than I can say.” Harold laughed as he stood and patted Argyle on the back. “Be warned, milady. Our sweet Argyle became quite the player whilst in the…uh…” He looked to Maris and flushed, then looked back to Maya. “Whilst visiting in the Tampa clan.” “She knows.” Maya smiled. The occupants of the chamber all looked to Maris. “She knows?” Thomas asked. “How?” Sara shook her head in amusement and chuckled. “My lord, you know your wife can barely control her tongue on a normal day. You can imagine all the fine things she had to say while birthing your children.” At the sound of a room full of snickering, Maya frowned. “Hey, it wasn’t easy! In my day, women don’t have to feel all that pain! And I won’t have to feel it the next time. Isn’t that right, Daddy C?” Reginald kissed Elizabeth’s tiny forehead and placed her gently inside of the cradle next to her brother. He walked over to Maya and sat down next to her on the bed. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you and Sara.” Sara released Dugald’s hand and watched her father’s nervous gestures. “I have a feeling it’s something we won’t want to hear.” Reginald imparted a humorless smile and shrugged. “I cannot, in good conscience, give either of you pain medicine here.”
  • 124. “What?” they screeched in unison. “Hear me out,” Reginald insisted with a wave of his hand. “If something was to go wrong and I accidentally administered too much of the drug, it could kill you, or cause permanent paralysis.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry girls. I can use all of my knowledge to deliver the babies you will carry safely, and I can lessen the discomfort a considerable degree with herbs, but no manmade drugs. We don’t have the proper machines here to watch your vital signs.” Maya looked up at Thomas and frowned. “Plan on staying away from my side of the bed for many years to come.” The room flooded with laughter. Thomas scowled at his wife. “I will do no such thing.” “Ye survived this day well enough,” Maris chided. “Ye and Lady Sara will survive many birthings yet tae come.” She swept her hands toward the door and delineated her next command. “Everyone out. The bairns need their rest. Ye can continue this discussion elsewhere.” Maya grinned up at the midwife. They were cut from the same shrewish cloth, Maris and she. “You will stay on at the keep, won’t you Maris? I can’t think of anyone better qualified to help raise my babies.” “Of course ye canna,” Maris insisted with a regal nod. At the sound of hushed laughter, she motioned toward the door once again. “Now out. All of ye.” Chapter 33 The MacGregor crew gathered in the parlor most adjacent to the great hall and locked themselves into the chamber. Argyle stood up and showcased all of the spoils they’d acquired during their travels to the people sitting around the table. “The first matter of business concerns the property of Lady Maya and Lady Sara.” Argyle reached into the first burlap bag they had toted back to the fourteenth century and pulled two smaller sacks out of it. He handed the first to Maya and the second to Sara. “Since yer paper money is of no value in our world, Lord Chance traded all of yer cash money fer these fine jewels.” Maya and Sara opened their sacks and spilled the gems out onto the table. “Good God!” Dugald proclaimed. “’Tis nigh a fortune!” Thomas grunted. He sifted through his wife’s wealth with a keen eye then scooped up the stones and placed them back into the sack. He patted his wife on the knee and grinned. “I ha’ wed an heiress.” Maya smiled at her husband. “We can use it to buy land and titles for any sons born after Angus.” Thomas nodded, impressed. A keen thinker, his woman. Maya looked into the bag and frowned. “Argyle, I do not see—” “I ha’ it, milady.” “Ha’ what?” Thomas asked. Maya smiled as she stroked the ruby necklace at her throat. “It’s a secret. You’ll find out at Christmas.” She winked and said no more. Thomas grunted, but complied. Over the next hour, Argyle and Harold presented the group with all of the future spoils
  • 125. they had accumulated while the crew ate Big Macs and fries and sipped from canned cokes. Thomas and Dugald spent the first quarter hour marveling over the handiness of their sippy straws. The next half-hour was spent oohing and awing over various future inventions such as the Bic lighter, a book of matches, and photographs. “I vow,” Thomas announced with a reverent tone, “these parchments ye call photographs look verra real.” He smiled at a baby picture of Maya in Dr. Chance’s album. “Elizabeth already has yer looks, love.” Maya grinned, reminiscing about times past as she looked through the album with her husband. “This is Sara and me at our senior prom.” She giggled. “Look at our hair, Sara!” Sara rose from her seat and stood behind Thomas’s shoulder. She flipped to the next page and grinned. “And here we are at our college graduation.” Thomas flipped to the next page of the book and frowned. “Who is this mon with his arms wrapped aboot ye, Maya?” Maya bit into a french fry then looked down at the album. She gulped, wide-eyed. “Uh…no one special.” She reached for the album and deftly moved it to the next page. “Oh look at this one!” she announced, hoping to distract her husband. “This is Sara and me in Paris.” Her ploy didn’t work. Thomas flipped the page back to the previous one and pointed vehemently at the photograph of a handsome blonde man standing behind Maya, his arms encircling her at the waist. “Who is he?” Maya flinched. “I was betrothed to him at one time,” she quietly admitted. Thomas’s brow rose together, forming a stern slash over his eyes. “The mon’s name?” “Nick.” “Nick?” “Yes.” “Nick the Arse?” “Yes.” Three gasps came from the mouths of Argyle, Dugald, and Harold. “Had I known that, I would ha’ killed the mon whilst I was in the future, milord.” Harold glared at Maya as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Ye were betrothed tae a wizard?” Argyle asked incredulously. “A wizard?” Reginald inquired, his expression bewildered. “What’s this about a wizard?” “Now dad,” Sara interjected, giving her father a don’t-you-dare-contradict-me look, “we both know that Lady Maya ended her betrothal to Nick the Arse when she found out he was a wizard. Isn’t that so?” Reginald scratched his head and gave his daughter a you-better-explain-what-in-the-hell-this-is-all-about-later look. “Yes. Yes, of course I know that. Everyone knows Maya cannot abide marrying a wizard.” Thomas grunted, appeased. “Ye will remove this photograph at once and burn it. I will no ha’ any parchments of my wife in the arms of another mon, wizard or no.” He glowered at Maya, waiting for her to comply with his demand. Maya shrugged her shoulders, removed the photograph from its protective plastic covering, and took a Bic lighter to it. She threw it to the ground, watching it burn down to ashes. “Happy now?” Thomas grunted. Dugald folded his arms across his chest and scowled at Sara. “If there be any photographs in that album with ye and another mon, ye best rid yerself of them afore I see them.” Sara bit her lip and nodded. She snatched the album from Thomas’s grasp and shuffled
  • 126. through the pages. She pulled out a total of ten pictures, Dugald fuming more and more visibly with each withdrawn piece of parchment. “Ye ha’ loved all of these men?” He turned to Reginald and scowled. “Ye allowed her tae court all of them?” Reginald flushed, snatching the photographs out of Sara’s hands while he glared at his soon to be son-in-law. “Now see here, in our time women court many men before settling upon just one!” He fiddled with the pile of pictures and frowned. “Half of these are pictures of Maya’s men anyway.” “Maya’s men?” Thomas bellowed. Maya groaned, sinking further into her chair. “Thanks Daddy C,” she mumbled under her breath. “Now see here!” Reginald declared to Thomas and Dugald with righteous indignation, “neither of my girls courted more than ten men apiece. They were good girls, both of them.” “Ten men a piece?” Thomas and Dugald shouted in unison. Maya and Sara closed their eyes, both of them fantasizing over all the ways they would torture Reginald when they got him alone. “Ten men? Ten men?” Thomas glared at his wife, his nostrils flaring. Maya rolled her eyes as she rose to her feet. “Thomas,” she scolded as she threw a long curl over her shoulder, “I just gave birth to your children a few hours ago. I am in no mood to be yelled at. I am going to my bedchamber.” She turned on her heel and stomped off toward the parlor door. “Maya!” Thomas bellowed. “Ye will come back here and explain yerself this verra moment!” “No I will not!” she spat even as she whirled around to confront him again. “You, my own husband, have insulted me.” She ran to Reginald’s side, plucked the photographs from his hand, and hurled them at her husband. “This courting was the custom of our time, the way things were done. You cannot fault me for living the only way I knew how!” Her defensive words pierced through Thomas’s tirade, making him see things from his wife’s perspective. He backed down immediately, still angry but saying no more. “Now,” Maya announced over her shoulder as she walked back toward the parlor door, “I am going to my chamber, feeding my babies, and then going to sleep in my bed! Goodnight!” ***** The MacGregor paced the length of the lower bailey, praying that he would soon calm down enough to visit with his wife and bairns. No man dared approach him as he strutted angrily back and forth, not even Sir Dugald. In his heart of hearts, Thomas knew it wasn’t fair for him to be so bloody mad at his wife, yet knowing as much did little to dissipate his murderous mood. He wanted to kill the bastard Nick, wanted to watch him die by his own hands. Thomas wasn’t green enough to believe that Maya had come to him a virgin and he also conceded to the fact that he knew as much before he had wed her. Still, it was one thing to know of some long ago forgotten man from her past and entirely another to have to witness a photograph of the man holding his wife’s body as though he had the right of it. No man had that right. Maya was his wife, his property, his possession by law. If only he had harbored the foresight to go with Harold and Argyle into the future, then the bastard Nick would be dead and his honor would be avenged. Instead, he was made to pace the courtyard wishing for what could have been and what would never be. True, he could venture into the future alone and take his vengeance, but he knew he would never leave his wife’s side for the time it could take to do so. Nay, he couldn’t bear to
  • 127. be torn from her for so long. Thomas sighed, defeated. He came to an abrupt halt and ran his fingers through his hair. His Maya was right. Such courting customs were the way of things in the world she used to claim as her own. And besides, he had won. Maya belonged irrevocably to him. Mayhap he could just let it go, knowing that he was the victor when all was said and done. After all, ‘twas his bed that Maya came to each night. ‘Twas his body that claimed hers, loving her with all his passion. ‘Twas his bairns suckling from her breasts in their chamber even now. And ‘twould be his bairns not yet made who would grow in her belly. Thomas shrugged, brooding less and less every moment. He sighed in resignation, realizing that he should be above stairs with his wife and bairns, not in the courtyard pacing like a madman. It was time to accede to the obvious. Nick the Arse might have won the first battle, but ‘twas a battle fought afore he’d met his Maya. Besides, ‘twas the MacGregor who had claimed the ultimate prize. He was the man who had won the bloody war. ***** Maya dismissed Maris from her bedchamber, insisting that the midwife—and now governess—go down to the great hall for a bite to eat. She complied readily, the weariness of the past several hours at last catching up to her. Angus woke up at the sound of his mother’s voice and cried for all he was worth. Maya opened her gown, freeing her breast in the process, as she rushed over to the cradle he shared with his sister. She picked him up and smiled warmly. “Are you hungry, little guy?” Angus wailed in response and continued to do so until he was happily chugging down his mother’s milk. Thomas entered their bedchamber a short while later, finding his wife cooing to his son while he fed from her breast. He watched them in silence for a long moment, saying nothing but feeling vastly contented. Elizabeth began to petition for attention with her tiny squeals, breaking Thomas out of his languid perusal of mother and son. He walked over to the cradle and picked his daughter up. He rubbed her soothingly on the back while he showered her perfect little head with his doting fatherly kisses. Maya glanced up then narrowed her eyes at her husband. “I didn’t hear you come in,” she stiffly admitted. Thomas looked down at his wife and smiled, very much wanting a truce. “I was watching ye and Angus from yon corner. Little Beth must ha’ heard her papa come in.” He placed another loving kiss atop her forehead then gazed at Maya. “I am sorry aboot the way I behaved, Maya mine. I dinna ha’ the right tae get mad o’er anything that happened whilst ye were still in the future.” Maya shrugged, her defenses immediately disarmed. She smiled slowly, her anger dissipated. “It’s okay. Truth be told, I probably would have reacted the same way you did if I had unexpectedly been confronted with seeing a woman from your past.” She shook her head and scowled. “Let me rephrase that. I definitely would have reacted the same way you did if I had unexpectedly been confronted with seeing a woman from your past.” Thomas grinned. “Good. And let us pray that never will ye ha’ tae experience the kinds of feelings I ha’ been subjected tae.” Thomas walked closer to his wife as he continued to stroke Elizabeth’s back. “I think she’s wantin’ her turn at yer bosom, wife. We best trade as soon as Angus is finished eatin’.” Maya nodded. “He’s done now. I’ll feed Elizabeth while you burp Angus.” “Burp?”
  • 128. Maya grinned. “Put him over your shoulder and pat him gently on the back. When you hear him belch then you’ll know you did your job right.” Maya had to laugh when a few minutes later, their son did burp…and her husband boasted a look so proud one would have thought he’d just been crowned the king of Scotland. Chapter 34 Between the wedding preparations for Lady Sara and Sir Dugald’s upcoming nuptials, the knighting ceremony of Sir Argyle and Sir Harold that took place the day after they returned, the announcement of the betrothal of Sir Argyle and Lena, and the arrival of Hamish the Craftsman at the keep, Castle MacGregor was bustling with unending activity for the next month. And all this, Maya mused, while adjusting to parenthood with her warlord of a husband. “You’re going to be married tomorrow, Sara, can you believe it?” “Amazing, isn’t it? I only had to wait, what, a year?” Maya picked up her hand of cards and grinned. “Well it paid off. Daddy C will get to escort you to the chapel doors.” “I know.” Sara smiled. “And I have Harold and Argyle to thank for it.” Harold blushed as he picked up the hand of cards Maya dealt him. “’Twas nothing, milady.” Argyle nodded in agreement. “Now that is settled. Let’s the four of us get down tae business. I’ve a hand here guaranteed tae grind the likes of all of ye intae the dust.” “I’ll be the only one doin’ the grindin, lad,” Harold insisted with an indignant jerk of his head. Just then Reginald strolled into the parlor proper and frowned. “Don’t let Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum scare you off, girls. Neither of them can hold a candle to you in poker.” Maya and Sara’s chuckles caused the already piqued Harold the Sotted to scowl at Dr. Chance all the harder. “Mayhap ye should join the game, Reggie, and we’ll see who makes dust of whom.” “Don’t call me Reggie, Harry.” “Dinna call me Harry, Reggie. And whose going tae stop me?” “I will.” “Ye? Ha! Ye canna even wield a sword!” Reginald stomped over to Harold’s side, his face beat red with rage. “I still have my fists!” Harold stood up, challenging Reginald eye to eye. “Is that what ye call those puny womanly things?” “Puny? Womanly? Now see here you horse’s ass—” “Horse’s arse?” Harold sputtered. His face turned the same angry shade of crimson as Reginald’s. He drew his self up to his full height and poked his finger in the doctor’s chest. “I am rubber, ye are glue. Whatever ye say bounces off my fine form and sticks tae the likes of ye!” Maya rolled her eyes. “Boys, that’s quite enough. Angus already shows more maturity than either one of you.” Sara and Argyle laughed, inducing the shouting men to blush all the brighter. “Fine!” Harold spat. “Fine!” Reginald seconded.
  • 129. The men took their seats in a huff a moment later. Maya handed Reginald a hand of cards as she shook her head in amusement. “Well,” Argyle declared in an anxious tone, “let yon games begin.” ***** Harold spit on the butt of his sword then shined it up using a discarded animal skin. He repeated the action over the entire hilt, concentrating on his work. He looked up when he saw Reginald approaching him in the courtyard. “Lord Chance,” he grumbled. “Sir Sotted,” Reginald acknowledged in just as grousing a tone. Harold went back to his work, spitting and polishing. Reginald sat down on the bench beside Harold and silently watched him for a long moment. Finally, he sighed. “You were right. I cannot wield a sword. It wasn’t something you had to know how to do in my world.” Harold stopped his work and looked intently at Reginald. He listened, but said nothing. “I suppose I feel…well…like a weakling here,” Reginald admitted. “I could care for the girls in the twenty-first century, but I’ve no idea how to do so in the fourteenth.” Harold scratched his bearded chin and reflected. He realized how much it had cost the healer to admit as much. “I could teach ye, Reggie.” “You could?” “Aye.” Reginald nodded. “I would be forever in your debt.” Four hours later, Maya, Sara, and Argyle happened upon Reginald and Harold while strolling through the courtyard. They scurried quickly and quietly behind a row of bushes, watching the dueling duo without being seen. “I was wondering where they disappeared to,” Sara murmured. Argyle squinted at the men. “It appears Sir Sotted is teaching Lord Chance how tae battle,” he offered. Maya grinned as she shook her head. “I never thought I’d live to see the day when your father was sword fighting while dressed in a kilt,” she whispered. Sara laughed in a hushed tone. “He said he feels like a Catholic school girl wearing that plaid.” Maya gave Dr. Chance the once-over with her eyes. “A very burly Catholic school girl, perhaps.” “Ye ha’ the hang of it already, Reggie!” Harold yelled from the center of the lower bailey when their swords clanged together. “We will work on bettering yer skills after the morrow.” “Why wait that long?” Reginald asked as he struck out at Harold again. “Thy daughter’s wedding is on the morrow. I’ve ballads tae prepare fer. I canna spar until the day after.” Reginald cursed when, a moment later, Harold disarmed him and drew the tip of his sword to Reginald’s throat. “One day, Sotted,” he warned. “One day it will be my sword pointed at your throat.” Harold smiled. “And I will feel every inch the proud papa when that day arrives.” Reginald rolled his eyes to the heavens. “Let’s go get some grub, Harry.” “I was aboot tae suggest the same thing, Reggie.” Two snickering ladies and one bemused knight laughed quietly from the shadows. “I do believe they like each other,” Maya whispered. “I ha’ tae say I agree,” Argyle mused. “I hope he doesn’t teach my father how to sing,” Sara added. The threesome looked at each other and burst out laughing.
  • 130. Chapter 35 “I canna believe I’m tae be wed tae a knight.” Lena clutched her hand to her heart and sighed dramatically. Maya and Sara looked up from the tapestry the trio was sewing together and smiled simultaneously. “You should feel proud of him,” Sara prodded. “He earned his knighthood.” “I am proud of my Argyle. Verra proud, milady.” Lena smiled, picking up her end of the tapestry once again. “He said he thought of me during the whole of his travels. He vowed that I am more lovely than even the women of the books he read whilst on yon journey.” She furrowed her brow and shrugged her shoulders. “I dinna ken what he meant by that, yet am I touched all the same.” Sara coughed, clearing her throat delicately. “I’m certain it was the highest of compliments.” Maya shook her head absently, then pricked her finger and scowled. “Ouch!” she grimaced. “After an entire year at this, one would think I’d quit acquiring war wounds from sewing.” Sara chuckled delightedly. “The MacGregor tapestries wouldn’t be the same without droplets of your blood woven throughout them.” “Aye,” Lena giggled, “it makes fer a verra real effect, milady.” ***** Oh say Sir Dugald will see The dawn’s early light After Lady Sara he does bed And gives her nigh a fright. The laughter at the wedding reception echoed throughout the great hall. Maya grinned from an unabashed sense of revenge, patting Angus on the back as she burped him. She looked to Sara who was turning a delightful shade of pink. “At least you’re being humiliated to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner instead of Gilligan’s Island,” she teased. The Lady Sara is fair Sir Dugald nee-eeds an heir Let us pray through the night That his rod has a care. Sara groaned. At least Maya hadn’t been made an ass of in front of her father at her own wedding reception! She gingerly picked up her goblet of spiced mead and drained it of its contents. She then motioned desperately toward Gilfred, indicating her need for a refill. ***** “I thought the reception went rather well,” Maya whispered from the bed as her husband laid the babies into their cradle. “Aye,” he affirmed in a hushed tone. “’Twas a good time.” He unbelted his plaid, letting it drop to the chamber floor. He walked toward the bed naked and grinned at his wife. “Though no’ as good a time as I had at our own.” Thomas stretched out onto the bed on his back next to his wife and placed his hands
  • 131. behind his head as he looked up at the ceiling. Maya gulped. She had originally planned to wait the full six weeks before she resumed having sex with her husband again, yet she couldn’t stop the fluttering in her belly that the sight of his thickly erect penis caused. “Thomas,” she whispered. He craned his head towards her, smiling knowingly when he caught her ogling his body. “Aye?” Maya crawled to her husband’s side of the bed, propped her body up on one elbow, and stared down at him. She splayed her free hand across his chest, feeling the sexy black hair beneath her fingertips. Thomas sucked in his breath, his nipples pricking into tiny points. His muscles corded tensely, excitement reeling through his very fiber. He relished every moment of his wife’s touch, it having been far too long since she’d explored his willing body, to his way of thinking. His shaft swelled painfully rigid. Maya grew bolder, visibly and innately aware of her husband’s hunger, as well as her own. She reached between his legs and drew his jutting cock into her hand. She stroked up and down, her touching eliciting familiar groans of pleasure from him. “Maya, my love, I canna survive this,” he admitted in a hoarse voice. “If ye canna finish, dinna begin.” Maya continued stroking her husband’s flesh as she bent her head to draw one of his nipples into her mouth. Thomas growled, unable to bear the torture much longer. She became more insistent in her petting, finally replacing the hand at her husband’s shaft with her mouth. She took the head of his manhood in between her lips, then half swallowed him in one long suck downward. Thomas gripped the back of her head, his breath turning ragged and shallow. Maya suckled up and down the length of him, over and over again, the salty taste of his pre-cum on her tongue. Thomas could withstand no more. He forced his wife’s mouth from his shaft and flipped her over onto her back. He kissed her roughly on the lips, devouring her mouth with his own while he reached between her legs to stroke her flesh into readiness. She was already soaking wet. He had to have her—now. Thomas settled his muscled body between his wife’s thighs and gently probed at the outer recesses of her opening with his arousal, slowly inching his way inside. Maya moaned louder, oblivious to anything except the pleasure she knew was about to follow. He grabbed his wife’s face, forcing her to meet his gaze. He looked into her eyes, wanting to see her reaction when he took her. It had been so long. Far too long. Thomas thrust his shaft into his wife’s awaiting body in one powerful stroke. She gasped, nature having tightened her womanhood after the birth of their children. It was almost like losing her virginity again. Only this pain didn’t last as long. Thomas stilled, sweat pouring off his brow. “Let me know when I can move in ye, my love. Let me know when yer body remembers mine.” Maya reached up and pulled her husband’s face down to cover her own. She kissed him possessively and passionately on the lips, then released him and grabbed at his buttocks, kneading them with her fingers. “Take me now, Thomas,” she pleaded. “Maya,” he growled as he surged inside her tight opening again. He rode her endless moments, his brow knitted as he pumped in and out of her body. Rotating his hips, he elicited a deep moan of approval from his wife as he thrust in and out of her in more rapid movements. He continued to ride her, fighting off his own release, until he felt the familiar pulsing of her flesh around his manhood. Thomas threw his head back and groaned, spilling his seed deeply inside of her.
  • 132. He stilled atop his wife, breathing deeply. After two long fortnights, he was finally replete. He rolled off of her and onto his back, drawing Maya down to lay in the fold of his muscled arm. He smoothed her sweat-soaked hair behind her ears and smiled. “I thought ye dinna want me on yer side of the bed fer many years tae come,” he teased. Maya jerked her head off of his chest and met his gaze. She grinned. “That’s why we did it on your side.” Thomas laughed, spanking her playfully on the bottom in the process. “I ha’ a feeling that I will be bringing ye tae my side of the bed many more times this night, Maya mine.” “Promise?” “Promise? My love, I vow it.” Chapter 36 Robert MacAllister bent down and scratched his head as he surveyed his handiwork. It had taken him months to find a villein that matched him in hair color and body size, but the deed was finally done. Too bad he had to kill the commoner, but there was no help of it. Robert smiled. He truly was all things brilliant and worthy. He had ravished the dead man’s body so perversely with an animal’s tusk he’d procured that it appeared as though a wild boar had ripped Robert MacAllister to pieces. Only it wasn’t the MacAllister who was laying dead on the ground. ‘Twas the commoner, wearing Robert’s clothes. Robert stood up and headed for the cover of the trees, feeling every inch the cunning strategist. He scratched his chest, the villein’s coarse wool clothing making his body itch as badly as his lice infested scalp did. It mattered not. Robert was in far too fine of a mood to worry over the trivial. The MacGregor men would find the MacAllister’s alleged body any day now. Then the MacGregor would relax his guard. And the bitch would be his. The MacAllister would best the MacGregor—again. ‘Twas enough to make him laugh in delight. Chapter 37 Angus and Elizabeth MacGregor sat on their papa’s lap by the hearth in the great hall and smiled adoringly up at him. Each of the children rode astride one of their father’s powerful thighs and beamed with the delight that only four-month-old babes can as Thomas jiggled them back and forth on his legs in a game of horsy. “’Tis a fine destrier ye are riding, my son.” Thomas made neighing warhorse sounds as he rocked his heir back and forth. Angus grinned at his papa, his dark hair and eyes the spitting image of his father’s. “And fer ye my Lady Beth, a tamed palfrey.” Elizabeth’s tri-colored light eyes shown brightly as she giggled, her shiny blonde curls bouncing in time with her father’s knee. Thomas glanced over to his wife and smiled, watching her as she and Lady Sara barked orders to the men hanging up the ornaments Hamish had built for the decoration of the Christmas pine tree. The stockings the ladies had sewn together had already been hung over the hearth, so all that was left to finish was the tree.
  • 133. Hamish stood near Lady Maya, grimacing each time it looked as though a MacGregor soldier wasn’t being as careful with the glass creations he’d fashioned as they should have been. Maya read the worry writ across the craftsman’s face and chastised the men immediately. “Gilfred and Argyle, be careful please. Hamish worked day and night on those pieces. Christmas is only three days away, so we’ve no time to replace them.” Argyle looked down at his mistress and frowned. “My lady, ‘tis fretfully high up here. I’m doin’ the best I can do whilst still keeping my wits aboot me.” Maya grinned up to him. “Is the brave, ferocious knight afraid of big, mean heights?” “Aye, dreadfully so, and I am no’ tae proud tae admit tae the likes of it.” Maya and Sara laughed. Hamish shook his head and chuckled. “Argyle!” Thomas bellowed from the other side of the hall, “Take yer womanly arse down from there and come hold my bairns. I will see tae the ornaments myself.” Argyle blushed, but readily complied. He rushed to the laird’s side and scooped Angus and Beth from their father’s lap. “Yer devoted cousin Argyle will make fer a better horsy than yer da’ could ever hope tae be.” Thomas grunted his disagreement, then strode toward the tree. Dugald strolled into the great hall a moment later. He stopped by the hearth first and tickled the babes sitting atop Argyle’s lap under their chins. Satisfied he’d made them happy, he strolled over to his wife and kissed the back of her neck. Sara whirled around. “You startled me!” she laughed, kissing him back. “I would never try tae scare the mother of my bairn.” She smiled and patted her belly. She threw her glance in the direction of Maya’s children and waxed sentimental. “Aren’t you excited? We’re going to be parents in another couple of months!” “I know, sweeting.” Dugald kissed his wife’s hand and smiled. “Still, I wish we would ha’ wed afore ye conceived rather than after. It gives the gossips less fat tae chew on.” Sara shrugged. “I don’t care what they say.” Dugald grinned. “Neither do I.” Lady Lena ambled into the great hall next, running excitedly up to Maya’s side. “Well, milady, I can finally say that all is done. Cook has hired on enough help in yon village tae prepare a lavish feast. The villagers will be sorely impressed.” Maya grinned, clapping her hands together in excitement. “Thank-you for taking care of it, Lena. I knew I could count on you…as always.” Lena blushed at the compliment. “’Twas nothing.” “Do no’ sell yer hard work short, wife,” Argyle scolded as he walked toward Lena and Maya. “I am verra proud of how well ye ha’ brought everything together.” Lena beamed a delighted smile up to her husband, plucking Elizabeth from his arms in the process. Maya nodded her head in agreement. “Argyle is right. You are a true treasure, Lena.” She smiled to her children, both vastly contented in Sir Argyle and Lady Lena’s arms. She cooed and clucked her tongue, patted each of them on the head affectionately, then returned to her job as Christmas tree decoration overseer. “A little higher, Thomas. I want the angle of it to be perfect so the sunlight reflects off of it when it streams in.” Thomas nodded and raised the ornament higher. “More to the right.” Thomas moved it to the right. Maya inspected his hanging job with a frown, cocking her head in indecision. “Perhaps it
  • 134. was better where it was. What do you think, Hamish?” Hamish cleared his throat, grinning at the look of exasperation on the laird’s face. “Hmm,” he contemplated with a thoughtful scratch to his beard, “I like it where it is.” Maya nodded, deciding the craftsman was right. “Fine. Thomas, you may proceed to the next ornament.” Thomas glared at his harridan of a wife. “Oh may I, Lady Maya? I canna thank ye enough,” he said sarcastically. Sara grinned as she walked over to Maya and playfully thumped her on the arm. “At this rate, it will be Christmas day before Thomas finishes.” The MacGregor snorted his agreement. “Alas, the voice of reason.” Just then Sir Harold and Lord Reginald swaggered into the great hall, both of them sweaty from their swordplay. “Ah look,” Maya teased, “here comes Beavis and Butthead now.” Argyle and Sara’s laughter caused Harold and Reginald to frown. Harold placed his hands on his hips and glowered. “I can tell ye which of us is Butthead and ‘tis no’ me.” “Now see here,” Reginald quipped, “if anyone is Butthead it is definitely you. I’m a much finer Beavis.” “Ha!” Harold countered, a word of challenge he’d picked up from Lady Maya. Reginald rolled his eyes. “You’re just sore at me because I finally bested you.” “Ye bested the Sotted?” Argyle asked, a twinkle in his eye. “That’s right, kid, I most certainly did,” Reginald boasted. Harold harrumphed. “Me body was still tired from the fine lovin’ I gave tae me lady last eve.” Reginald rolled his eyes, a common occurrence for him when conversing with Harold. “If I were your lady the only thing fine I’d find about your lovin’ is its absence.” “I am rubber, ye are glue—” “Boys!” Maya shouted as she raised a silencing hand. “Enough.” Reginald and Harold grunted, but quit squabbling. “So,” Reginald grumbled as he waved a hand absently through the air, “what is the medieval Brady Bunch up to today?” Sara waddled over to her father and kissed his coarse cheek. “What does it look like?” “Decorating for Christmas?” “Aye,” Thomas offered as he hung another ornament onto the branch of the pine. “My shrew of a wife is ordering me aboot like a serving wench.” Maya snorted her disagreement. “I better ha’ many fine presents from ye under yon tree, love.” “Keep insulting me,” Maya warned with a sweetly false smile plastered on her lips, “and I can tell you one present you definitely won’t get this Christmas, or any other night in our bedchamber for that matter.” The hooting and howling of laughter echoed throughout the great hall. Thomas grinned wickedly at his wife. “With yer demandin’ appetite? I willna worry o’er much aboot it.” The guffaws grew louder. Maya opened up her mouth to express another wry sentiment then snapped her jaws shut. She frowned up at her husband, unable to think of a single smart-ass thing to say in retaliation. Damn, he’d won this round! Thomas winked at his wife, knowing exactly what she was thinking. ***** The MacGregor Christmas feast was a smashing success. The villagers took turns wandering in and out of the keep, each of them eating to their heart’s content. Maya
  • 135. introduced Hamish the Craftsman to Hamish the Herder, still bemused by the fact that the men bore the same name. Neither of them seemed as riveted by the knowledge as Maya was, but they became fast friends nonetheless, delighting her to no end. “Are you certain you have to leave already?” Maya asked, turning to her new friends. “Aye, milady,” Sir Stephen supplied. “I am truly sorry, yet is my Margaret’s da’ feelin’ ill. We told him we’d bring a trencher of food tae him, if ye dinna mind.” “Of course I don’t mind!” Maya beamed. “Take as much as you like. And Margaret, please promise me you’ll bring your adorable children back to play with Angus and Beth very soon.” “I promise,” Margaret smiled, blushing prettily. “And we canna thank ye enough fer all yer kindness, milady.” Maya laughed as she turned to Stephen. “How many trips to the keep will it take before she addresses me by name and kills the ‘milady’ stuff?” Stephen grinned. “I’m thinkin’ on her next visit.” An hour later, Sara joined Maya in the great hall, tapping her on the back to gain her attention. Maya whirled around and threw a smile her best friend’s way. “Is everything okay?” Sara nodded her head emphatically. “I’m having a great time, though Dugald is anxious to see it end.” “Why?” She shrugged. “He’s excited about opening his gifts. He can’t wait to open up the presents in his stocking after the villagers leave and it’s only the family remaining here.” Maya grinned. “What a baby.” Sara laughed. “Tell me about it.” “Maya!” Thomas boomed out her name as he strode across the hall. “Come here, love.” She turned on her heel and smiled over to her husband. She hadn’t spent any time alone with him in hours. Thomas and Dugald were standing together with a third man and a woman between them. “Who is that?” Sara whispered in wide-eyed awe. “I don’t know,” Maya exclaimed breathlessly. The stranger standing between their husbands was the most beautiful man either of them had ever laid eyes upon. Dark hair, blue eyes, and as tall and strapping as Thomas and Dugald. Neither of them was interested in him, of course, but a woman would be blind not to take a gander…or two. The woman who stood with the stranger was passing pretty, not a great beauty, but it was easy to see why the man at her side was drawn to her. She was as busty as a Penthouse Pet and judging from her low neckline, was also quite proud of that fact. She carried herself well, able to play up her attributes. Maya and Sara halted their perusal of the woman and returned their attentions to the man at her side. Wow! What a hunk! Thomas and Dugald frowned, both of them realizing that their wives were giving the Hamilton the once over. The laird smiled down to Maya and Sara, oblivious to the scowls his friends were accosting him with. “My ladies,” he grinned, “’tis an honor tae finally meet ye both. I ha’ heard much aboot ye from Sir Dugald and the MacGregor.” Maya snapped out of her perusal of the stranger and sauntered up to his side. “Ye must be the fair Lady Maya,” the Hamilton beamed. He drew her hand to his lips for a kiss. “Thomas surely did no’ exaggerate yer comeliness. In fact, his words did no’ do ye justice.”
  • 136. Maya blushed, deciding she liked the man already. Thomas grunted, frowning at the Hamilton’s finesse. “And ye must be the fair Lady Sara,” he smiled. “I vow, ye are also as lovely as Sir Dugald boasted.” He drew Sara’s hand to his lips, kissing it briefly. She sighed in delight. Dugald scowled. “Patrick,” the woman at his side purred. “Aren’t ye goin’ tae introduce me tae the MacGregor’s wife?” The woman had an unsettlingly wicked gleam in her eye that Maya saw right through. Maya glanced toward her husband suspiciously only to see that he was shifting back and forth on his feet and not meeting her gaze. “This is Meg,” the Hamilton shrugged, oblivious to Maya’s narrowing eyes. “Your wife?” she asked icily, praying it was so. “Nay,” Meg answered, smiling mischievously down to her. “I’m his lady friend.” Meg turned her attention toward the MacGregor. “Are ye no goin’ tae welcome me, Thomas? It has been far tae long since we ha’,”—she paused meaningfully—“made each other’s acquaintance.” Thomas braved a quick look his wife’s way. He didn’t care to become the brunt of the anger he saw brewing there. He smiled half-heartedly down to Meg and inclined his head. “Of course, ‘tis good tae see ye, Meg.” Meg licked her lips coyly, smiling up to the MacGregor. Maya stared daggers at her husband, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he had better not pretend to be happy about this visit to any greater degree than he was already feigning. At least, he had better be feigning, she thought morosely. “So,” Maya asked as she threw her venomous gaze upward into the face of the tall stranger, “who the hell are you?” “Maya!” Thomas chastised. The Hamilton flinched, but managed to bow gracefully, grinning down at Maya as he spoke. “I am Patrick, laird tae the Hamilton clan.” “Patrick!” Maya beamed as she clutched his hand and laughed, forgetting her anger for the moment. “It is wonderful to finally meet you! My husband talks about you all the time. He said you’d be coming today!” Thomas strolled over to his wife’s side and forcibly removed her hand from Patrick’s. “I dinna talk of him that much. I’m thinkin’ I no longer care o’er much fer the mon.” Maya scowled at her husband, embarrassed by his rudeness and remembering that she was still angry to high heaven that his ex-mistress was in her home. Patrick, undaunted by the MacGregor’s possessiveness toward his wife, threw his head back and laughed. “Excuse my husband,” Maya muttered, “he has the manners of a wild pig.” Patrick laughed harder, chucking Thomas on the arm. “Ye are as saucy as my friend Thomas claimed, milady.” Meg glowered at her opponent, not caring to be overshadowed by any woman, lady or otherwise. She placed her hands invitingly on her hips and winked at Thomas. “I never thought he had bad manners. His manners were always commendable…in certain situations.” That did it. Maya took a threatening step towards Meg as Sara and Thomas quickly placed restraining hands on either of her shoulders. “Let me make one thing perfectly clear here, Meg.” Thomas winced, afraid beyond reason that his wife was about to insult the visiting laird’s
  • 137. mistress. Who was he kidding? He knew she was about to insult the Hamilton’s paramour. At Meg’s haughty look of defiant challenge, Maya pressed onward. “I am very glad to at last make Patrick’s acquaintance, as he is welcome here at any time. But make no mistake—the Hamilton’s presence will not deter me from throwing you out of my home if you keep sending those unsubtle hints my husband’s way. He’s mine,” she bit out under her breath, much to the delight of the MacGregor soldiers who had gathered around to view the spectacle. “All mine!” Thomas’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head. He couldn’t stop the elation that swelled in his heart at his wife’s fiercely jealous and possessive words. He glanced quickly over to Patrick to gage his reaction, noting at once that the laird was grinning at Maya. Apparently Meg meant no more to the Hamilton than she had to his self. She was fun when Thomas had needed fun, but the other woman couldn’t hope to hold a candle to his hellion of a wife. “And furthermore,” Maya continued as she glowered at the now fuming Meg, “if you wish to remain a guest in my home, you will show the proper amount of respect due to me as lady of this keep and wife to the MacGregor!” Maya had never cared that much about her title until this very moment, feeling comforted that it gave her added leverage in the situation. “Do I make myself perfectly, totally, and unequivocally clear, Meg?” Meg raised her chin defiantly, glaring down at Maya as she spoke. “I think ‘twas ye who ha’ the manners of a wild pig.” “You got that right, sister! And I’m as deadly as one too—never forget that!” Thomas could no longer suppress his grin. He picked his wee wife up off of the ground and laughed, planting her at his side until she sheathed her claws. “I think Meg knows when tae back down, do ye no’ Meg?” “I dinna believe I wish tae stay here any longer!” Meg announced with a huff. “Patrick, I demand that ye take me back tae the keep the soonest!” Patrick shook his head, trying his damnedest to stave off the amusing image of Maya threatening a woman so tall and large as Meg. “Meg, I willna leave here until after hogmany. I will remain here with my oldest friend, Thomas.” “Then I demand an escort home!” Patrick shrugged, wanting to be rid of the nuisance called Meg after the trouble she’d caused the wife of not only a close friend of his, but a vastly important ally as well. He motioned to one of his men, indicating to do as she had instructed. He would deal with her later, when he returned home. Meg cast a fulminating glare the Hamilton’s way. “Well I never!” she sputtered, too incensed to think let alone speak. She placed her hands defiantly on her hips and marched away, a soldier in tow. Maya beamed triumphantly at the departing backside of Meg. She smiled wickedly at Sara, inducing her best friend to giggle. “Is it safe tae put ye down now, ye little harridan?” Thomas asked in amusement. Maya frowned up at her husband, but relented. “If she’s gone then yes! And don’t laugh at me!” Patrick guffawed as he watched Thomas place his wife gently on her feet. ‘Twas obvious he loved his woman dearly. Maya regained her composure, then attempted to placate Patrick with a genuine smile. Suddenly, she felt a tad guilty. “I really am sorry. I didn’t mean for you to spend the holidays away from the woman you love.” Patrick laughed louder, winking down to Maya after he did. “She was a friend, no more. I dinna love her. Dinna fash yerself o’er it, milady. Truly am I sorry that she insulted ye so
  • 138. mightily, ye ken that dinna ye lass?” She smiled warmly at the handsome laird, thankful for his unexpected understanding. “Yes.” Maya laced her fingers through her husband’s and smiled up at him. Thomas grinned, shaking his head to clear it of what could only be called bewilderment. She had said he was hers. “All mine!” had been her exact term. The knowledge that she cared so passionately delighted him to no end. Determined to bring an end to the ugly scene and regain what she hoped looked like regal composure, Maya returned her attention to Patrick. “It’s my understanding that you will be spending the holidays with us, clear through to the new year. Am I correct?” “Aye, milady,” he smiled, letting her bow out of the fiasco gracefully. “I thank ye fer inviting me and my men. And I hope ye and yer lord’s bairns like the gifts I ha’ brought fer ye.” “You didn’t have to do that.” “’Twas an honor, Lady Maya.” “Well,” Maya laughed, “I’m glad you think so because we have a gift or two for you as well.” Patrick flushed. “Ye are tae kind.” Thomas rolled his eyes, unable to endure any more of the sickeningly sweet sentiments being exchanged between his wife and good friend. “If the tae of ye are done kissing each other’s arses, let us retire to my table and eat.” Patrick laughed, thinking he hadn’t had a better time of it in ages. Maya snorted. “Manners of a wild pig,” she muttered under her breath as she let her husband lead her to their table. Chapter 38 “Love, ‘tis time tae open the presents. Will ye let it go and join in on the fun?” Maya continued to pace the floor of their bedchamber as she glared at no one and nothing in particular. She halted before her husband, threw out her bosom, and mimicked Meg in a falsetto tone. “Are ye no goin’ tae welcome me, Thomas? It has been far tae long since we ha’,”—she paused just as Meg had done—“made each other’s acquaintance.” Thomas chuckled, bemused by his wife’s imitation of the now departed Meg. “Ye are jealous, milady.” “Damn right I am!” Maya countered, her nostrils flaring. Thomas crossed his arms over his chest and regarded his wife. “It just occurred tae me that mayhap this encounter with Meg was a good thing.” Maya whirled around to face her husband. “How can you say that?” she asked, genuinely bewildered. “Because now ye ken how I felt when I saw that photograph of ye and Nick the Arse.” “That’s different.” Thomas arched a black brow. “Oh? How so?” “Nick wasn’t here in the flesh, making a bunch of perverse insinuations.” “And lucky ye are that he was no’, else I would ha’ killed the mon.” Maya narrowed her eyes at her husband, then slowly smiled. She shook her head, finally seeing the irony and humor of the situation. “I acted like a true shrew, didn’t I?” Thomas grinned. “Aye. But I’m no’ complaining aboot it.”
  • 139. “I’m sorry, Thomas,” Maya conceded with a sigh. “I shouldn’t be taking it out on you. I love you is all. The thought of you between her legs just…kills me,” she admitted forlornly. Thomas grabbed her by the chin and gently forced her gaze up to meet his own. “As Patrick said, dinna fash yerself o’er it, my love. I am glad it happened, fer now I realize how much ye truly do love me.” “I couldn’t live without you,” she whispered hoarsely. “Nor I ye, milady.” Thomas rubbed her back as he pulled her into a tight embrace. “Our children and friends await us in the great hall. Let us make merry this Christmas, hm?” Maya nodded. “I love you, Thomas.” “And I love ye, Maya mine.” ***** “It’s wine from my homeland,” Maya beamed. “I hope you like it.” Patrick studied the exquisitely crafted glass bottle that sported the blood red brew and smiled. “I vow, milady, the bottle itself is a worthy gift. I ha’ no doubt but that I will enjoy this verra much.” Maya bit her lip and looked at Sara. She gave her best friend a silent thank-you for doing such a good job of peeling the California Merlot label off the wine bottle and replacing it with a parchment written of her own hand. After all, the original label contained the true date of its bottling. This one sported a faux date. Maya looked around the great hall and smiled. Everyone that meant something to her was here, enjoying their presents immensely. Angus and Elizabeth were scooting around on the floor, playing with the hand-made toys their father and Patrick had carved for them. Argyle and Lena were sitting in the corner hugging and kissing while Lena fawned over a jeweled bracelet Argyle had gotten for her in the future. Harold was intently studying the book of ballads Reginald had gifted him with, while Reginald was beaming over the new broadsword Harold had the smithy craft for him. Maris was sitting with Harold’s ladylove Helen, both of them eyeing their new necklaces with appreciation. John the Elder sat with Hamish the Craftsman, both men inordinately pleased with the tunic and dagger his lord and lady had gifted them with. Sara and Dugald were laughing, both of them overwhelmed by the gifts they’d bestowed upon the other. And then there was Thomas. Thomas sat pensively in his chair next to his good friend Patrick, looking over the silks, spices, and finely woven tunics his lady had given him with a greedy and happy eye. Maya smiled. She’d never seen a more eager, blissful look on her husband’s face. Well, except for in bed, but she decided that didn’t count. “I’ve two more gifts to give my husband,” Maya announced as she rose to her feet and meandered over to her husband’s chair. The room stilled, all curious eyes fixed on the laird and his wife. Thomas arched a giddy brow. “Tae more? Ye ha’ given me much already, love.” Maya shrugged her shoulders as sheplaced a small wrapped gift on her husband’s knee. Thomas looked to the present and then to his wife. “Open it,” she prompted. He nodded and complied. Thomas unwrapped his wife’s gift, withdrawing a huge ruby necklace from the parchment in the process. It was a stone that had belonged to her mother’s father and to his father before him. She had bade Argyle to find its whereabouts from Dr. Chance before he and Harold left for the future.
  • 140. Thomas held the stone up, excited oohs and awes engulfing the great hall as he did. “I vow,” Dugald announced, “’tis a large stone.” “A king’s ransom,” Patrick agreed breathlessly. Maya grinned at her wide-eyed husband and bent down to kiss him on the cheek. She plucked the heavy chain and its amulet from his hands and placed it around his neck. “This stone has been passed down in my family for generations. When we were courting, Thomas, you gave me a necklace similar to this one. You told me to think of you every time I looked at it, so I never took it off.” She smiled. “Now I ask the same of you. You are my life, my heart, and I want you to wear this always so you’ll never forget it.” A chorus of ahhhs sounded throughout the hall. Thomas pulled his wife onto his lap and kissed her roughly and thoroughly on the lips. He touched the ruby dangling from his neck, silently worrying that he might shame himself in front of his kinsmen by crying. “I shall never remove it, Maya mine. Never.” She kissed her husband back for a long, earth-shattering moment. She even slipped him a little tongue, much to the laughing delight of the great hall’s occupants. Maya bounced off of her husband’s lap a while later. She kneeled down onto the floor, scooped up Angus and Elizabeth, and lovingly placed them on their papa’s lap. “And now for my last present,” she announced with a wicked grin. “Aye?” all asked in unison, wondering what could possibly outdo the last gift. Maya gazed at her husband, beaming a radiant smile down to him. “You’re a good father, Thomas. You love our children to distraction.” “Aye love, that I do.” “Do you think you have room in your heart to love another one just as much?” “Of course I do. I—” Thomas paused mid-sentence, scratching his head as his wife’s words penetrated. “Maya,” he whispered, “what are ye saying, love?” Sara shot up out of her chair and giggled as she and her very pregnant form waddled over to Maya’s side. She rubbed her belly in a circular motion and grinned at Thomas. Thomas gasped, cocking his head to stare up at his wife. “Already? We’re tae ha’ another bairn already?” Maya chuckled, nodding her head. Cheers went up throughout the hall. Thomas felt dizzy. He looked down at his chubby cherub-faced children sitting contentedly on his lap and laughed. He then grinned up at his wife, speechless. “Wow,” he breathed, at a loss for any word save that singular Tampa English exclamation his wife often muttered. “Wow is right,” Maya agreed. She bit her bottom lip, struggling with a thought that just popped into her brain. She looked down at Thomas and frowned. “And I am naming this one.” Chapter 39 “Look over here!” the soldier bellowed, drawing the attention of every man present. Gilfred rode quickly to his side, smiling in grim satisfaction when he beheld the sight at the lower soldier’s feet.
  • 141. ‘Twas Robert MacAllister. Dead. Gilfred would recognize that red hair and matted plaid anywhere. “Good work, Philip,” Gilfred nodded. “The MacGregor will be verra pleased.” Philip smiled, invigorated by the idea of gaining the laird’s approval. He had traveled all the way from the Lowlands to be taught how to fight. Gilfred dismounted and kneeled over the shredded flesh of the former laird. He studied the wounds intently, using a fallen branch to hoist the body over, face up. A boar. ‘Twas definitely the doings of a wild animal, a boar being the most logical assumption. Gilfred knew ‘twas more like than not the body of Robert MacAllister. Still, he would have preferred to know for sure and ‘twas hard to tell in all certainty when the man's face had been mauled so irreverently. He shrugged. It had to be the MacAllister. It could be no other. No outsider save Robert would be daft enough to venture onto MacGregor soil without welcome. Gilfred ordered the MacAllister’s body to be bagged and loaded onto a mount. “Be careful,” he warned the men, “lest the vermin that bluidy mon always sports upon his head decide they favor yers just as well.” The soldiers balked in unison, none of them wanting to touch Robert’s grotesque remains. Gilfred rolled his eyes and sighed. “Dinna be actin’ like women. Ye are MacGregor soldiers, all of ye. Someone needs pick him up.” He shivered and grimaced. “And ‘twill no’ be me.” ***** “I vow, Thomas, yer wife is the most comely of lasses. Does she ha’ any sisters lying around, waiting tae be swept off their feet by the handsomest of lairds?” Patrick asked the question with a grin, blocking a hit from the MacGregor’s sword in the process. “Nay,” Thomas replied as he slashed downward, the sound of metal clanging against metal. “She has no brothers or sisters a’tall.” Patrick grunted, whether from the news of Maya’s lack of sisters or from the jarring effect blocking Thomas’s last blow had to his sword arm, neither man could say. The two lairds battled in silence for half an hour, drawing a large crowd of MacGregor and Hamilton spectators around them to watch. The MacGregor soldiers cheered for Thomas, calling Patrick all manner of womanly names. The Hamilton men, not to be outdone, cast aspersions at Thomas, showing the esteem they held for their own laird. Thomas and Patrick looked at each other and grinned. By the saints, how both of them had missed this! They were, without a doubt, the other’s only rival in all of Scotland. It had always been that way. The lairds battled fiercely, both of them stripped down to nothing save their kilts. Their tensely corded muscles bulged savagely in the late morning sun, their bodies glistening with sweat over every square inch of their bodies, winter or no. They heaved with each strike, groaned with every block, yet neither of them showed signs of exhausting the other anytime soon. “My lord!” Gilfred cried as he and a handful of MacGregor soldiers rode through the inner gates. “Aye?” Thomas shouted without losing his concentration. “We believe we might ha’ found the body of the MacAllister!” Thomas called a halt to the sparring, inducing groans of disappointment to ring throughout the inner bailey. He clapped Patrick on the back in gratitude for a good fight, then strode toward a dismounting Gilfred. “Is he dead or alive?” “Dead. Verra dead. Torn tae pieces by a wild boar.”
  • 142. Thomas nodded. He looked over to Patrick and Dugald who were filing in next to him. “This seems tae easy,” he muttered to his friends. “Aye,” Dugald seconded, “after all this time, ‘tis tae much good luck tae at last find him, dead from a boar attack. Though if it is the mon, I will no’ question the wisdom of the heavens.” Patrick folded his arms across his chest and glowered at the sack that contained the remains of the MacAllister. “Open the bag, lad, and let us see.” Gilfred nodded to Philip, the soldier who had happened upon the body, indicating he should do as the Hamilton had bid him. “Philip did find the body, but I ha’ tae admit that I’ve the same reservations as ye, my lord.” “Why?” Thomas asked. Gilfred shrugged, pointing towards the remains at his feet. “His face was badly mauled. Ye canna tell fer a certainty ‘tis him. I fer one would feel better if we could at least make out his face.” Thomas clapped Gilfred and Philip on the back. “Good work, both of ye. Sir Argyle is inside with my wife. Bid them both tae come tae me in posthaste fer I want their opinions. Argyle has dealt with the MacAllister as much as Dugald and I ha’. And Lady Maya, well…ye know her talents fer examining the dead.” Gilfred and Philip nodded. They remounted their destriers and rode for the keep’s doors at top speed. “Thomas!” Patrick chastised, shaking his head in disagreement. “I dinna think ‘tis a sight yer gentle lady wife will want tae see.” Thomas and Dugald chuckled. The MacGregor clapped the Hamilton on the back and grinned. “First of all, there is nothing gentle aboot my wife, in case that scene with old Meg dinna warm ye tae that fact. Second, she had the task of examining the dead in her, uh, homeland, so death does no’ frighten the lass. And third, she will know whether or no’ ‘twas truly a boar that did this.” Patrick shook his head, the vision of such a wee woman as the Lady Maya not getting sick at the sight of a man torn nigh to pieces overwhelming his sensibilities. Finally, he shrugged. “If ye say so, my friend. Her homeland must be a strange place indeed.” Thomas nodded. If only he knew how strange, he thought to himself wryly. Thomas turned to his commander-at-arms. “What think ye, Dugald?” The MacGregor lowered his sword to the dead man’s body, using the hilt to flip his face to the side for better inspection. Dugald shook his head. “’Tis no’ easy tae say, Thomas. I should like tae believe ‘tis him, yet do I hold doubts.” “Aye,” Patrick agreed. “I ha’ no’ known the MacAllister as long as either of ye, nor ha’ I been forced tae deal with his wicked ways, yet ha’ I heard much aboot him. Robert is many things, but I dinna think he would succumb tae death in this manner. He’s far tae accomplished a hunter fer this.” The Hamilton swept his hand toward the carcass at their feet, emphasizing his meaning. Thomas bent down, regarding the body carefully. The length and width of it was definitely in keeping with the MacAllister’s size. Even the hair was the same fiery shade of red. Still…“Ye are right, both of ye,” he acknowledged. “Robert is a fine hunter, always has been. I am anxious tae get Argyle and Maya’s opinions.” Sir Argyle and Lady Maya appeared together a few minutes later, riding double on her powerful black mare. Thomas arched his brow at his wife and soldier. “Ye tae arrived here the soonest. I take it ye were no’ in the castle proper?”
  • 143. Maya smiled down to her husband as Argyle helped her to dismount. “No sweetcakes, Argyle was teaching me to ride this beauty you gave me for Christmas.” She petted the horse on the head then turned to her husband with a frown. “I still don’t know what to name him.” “Ye can decide later, love. Fer now, I need ye tae look at this dead body and tell me how he died. And ye, Argyle, tell me if ye think ‘tis the MacAllister.” Maya and Argyle nodded simultaneously as they walked toward the remains of the unidentified man. Patrick watched in awe and respect as Lady Maya crouched down beside the body and examined it. She showed no emotion, not even the slightest indication that she found the task set before her as repulsive as any other lady of his acquaintance would have found it to be. “’Tis no’ the MacAllister,” Argyle announced, barely hesitating. “How can ye be sure?” Thomas asked skeptically. “Aye,” Dugald prodded, “I’m as leery aboot his supposed death as all of ye, yet does this mon ha’ the look of Robert.” Argyle blushed, clearing his throat. “Ye ferget that when I was a young and overzealous squire, I managed tae get myself captured by his da’.” Argyle shrugged. “Robert liked tae come down tae the dungeon and torment me with all manner of ugly descriptions aboot what was tae become of me. I saw the mon up close many times. This is no’ him.” Thomas sighed. He placed his hands on his hips and regarded Argyle. “I dinna ferget. ‘Tis why I called fer ye tae come in the first.” Dugald shook his head and groaned. “Then what does this mean? ‘Tis odd indeed tae find a dead MacAllister in yon woods and tae much a coincidence when the mon has almost the exact look of Robert.” “Mayhap the MacAllister is hoping ye will think him dead,” Patrick offered. Thomas gazed over to his friend and frowned. “A trap. He wants me tae lower my defenses, mayhap.” “Aye,” Patrick agreed. Maya stood up and turned around to face her husband. “It was probably the tusk of a wild animal that killed this man, but I doubt it was the animal itself that did the actual damage.” Patrick shook his head, her words making no sense to him. “I dinna ken, milady.” “Explain, wife,” Thomas insisted. Maya took a reflective breath as she knelt back down beside the body. “I’ve seen the remains of many men and women killed by wild animals and these cuts definitely have the same look to them. However,” she announced as she tilted her head to meet the questioning stares of the men, “my best guess is that a human did this.” Patrick’s eyes widened to the shape of saucers. He was growing more interested with this tale by the moment. “I still dinna ken.” Maya sighed, wanting to get back to her riding lesson and far away from the death stench of the decaying body—she was nauseous enough during the beginning stages of a pregnancy. Still, she knew her husband wouldn’t release her until she’d explained herself fully. “A man probably used the tusk of a boar he’d killed to maul this man with. He most likely wanted people to believe that this poor soul was murdered by an animal instead of by a man.” She shrugged. “Perhaps the man feared hanging for murder. Who knows.” “Or mayhap,” Argyle glowered, “he was just a daft mon who takes pleasure in other people’s pain. Aye, that ‘twould be the MacAllister alright.” Thomas grunted his agreement. “Why do ye think it could no’ ha’ been the boar itself that did this, love?” “Look at the slash marks,” Maya insisted with a sweep of her hand toward the victim’s
  • 144. body. She pressed on as the men knelt down to get a closer look. “This man is tall. In order for the boar to bring him down to the ground for a kill it would have to strike him in the middle. In doing so, it would rear its head up and the wounds would slash upwards. These wounds slash downwards, some of them even sideways.” “Mayhap the mon was asleep whilst he was attacked,” Patrick suggested, though more to play the devil’s advocate than because he himself believed it. Maya shrugged. “Anything is possible, but that is unlikely. Animals don’t tend to kill sleeping men. They strike when they feel threatened. How threatening is a snoring MacAllister?” Argyle harrumphed. “No’ verra.” He straightened his back indignantly, hoping to salvage what he felt to be a blow to his manhood in everyone’s eyes. “I was no’ even scared whilst in yon dungeon and Robert was attacking me in wakefulness.” He snorted. “’Tis unlikely that woman could scare a wild pig whilst slumbering.” Thomas rolled his eyes. “Let it go, lad. ‘Twas many seasons ago. We all know ye ha’ become quite the warrior in the mean time.” Argyle blushed, casting his gaze to the ground. “Aye, milord,” he mumbled. “Now then,” Maya said as she stood up and brushed the leaves and dirt from her gown, “if you have finished with me and Sir Argyle, we were in the middle of a riding lesson when you interrupted us.” She stood up on tiptoe and grazed her lips against her husband’s. “I’ll see you at the noon meal.” Thomas swatted her playfully on the backside and grinned. “Go on, love. Learn what ye can from Argyle this morn and we will ride together tonight after the evening repast.” Maya nodded. She grabbed Argyle by the hand and pulled him forcefully behind her toward her new horse. She really wanted this riding lesson. The experience on the horse when she’d fled from Thomas so long ago was a bumpy, frightening one. “Let’s go. If we hurry and I get the hang of this soon, we will still have time for a round or two of poker.” Argyle brightened considerably at that notion as he leapt up behind his mistress onto the mare. “And I will take ye tae yon cleaners, milady.” Maya gave a very unladylike snort. “Dream on.” ***** “Well, what do ye think?” Dugald put the question to the two lairds as he leaned back into the chair and sipped wine from his goblet. Thomas looked around the great hall distractedly while he contemplated his forthcoming answer. It was nigh unto the evening hour, yet his wife had still not emerged from the parlor with her “poker buddies”. He wondered with a touch of amusement if she would force him to drag her from it to eat as he so often found himself doing. Patrick motioned to his squire to refill his goblet as he settled into his chair by the hearth. He winked at a group of serving wenches who, giggling as they walked through the great hall, were swooning for the Hamilton’s notice. Patrick’s eyes devoured the wench in the middle, knowing he would take the buxom blonde to his bedchamber this eve. He’d already had the wench on the left the night prior. Mayhap he would ask the middle lass to assist him in bathing afore the evening meal. Patrick turned back to the group, forgetting the wench as quickly as he’d lusted over her. “I fer one think ‘tis all a ploy.” He glanced over to Thomas, effectively gaining his attention. “Judging from what ye ha’ told me of his desire tae steal yer wife from under yer nose—even going so far as tae try and ambush ye—I ha’ no doubt but that this was all in an effort tae make ye think him dead.”
  • 145. Thomas sighed, honing his scattered focus onto the conversation at hand. “Aye, I dinna disagree. ‘Tis just a matter now of what I will do with this information now that I ken his game.” Dugald shrugged, the solution obvious to him. “We ambush the bastard.” “Nay,” Thomas countered. “We dinna know where he is hiding himself, though ‘tis obvious he is staying aboot the woods.” Patrick rubbed the back of his neck as he considered the possibilities allotted to them. “I am always willin’ tae partake of a good fight, yet do I agree with Thomas. I’m thinking the best move would be tae let the devil’s spawn think ye believe him dead and ha’ therefore lowered yer wife’s guard. Then when he moves in tae take her, ye kill him.” Thomas growled, rising to his feet. “I ha’ thought of that, Patrick, believe me I ha’. But how do I go aboot making him believe Maya’s guard is down without actually letting it down?” Patrick scratched his chin and grinned. “I canna say.” Dugald rolled his eyes and laughed. “Verra helpful, Hamilton.” Patrick stood up and swatted Thomas affectionately on the back. “I will be here fer another sennight, old friend. We will figure this all out afore I ride fer home.” Chapter 40 Maya stood next to her husband and stared at the graves below her feet. Thomas had seen to it that his mother Elizabeth’s remains had been laid to rest in consecrated ground. No longer was she relegated to the gardens, to a place where the unworthy were bade by the church to spend their eternity below ground. She was in a holy burial site now, spending forever after next to her husband Angus. Elizabeth’s headstone was grandness itself, a monument befitting a queen. Maya squeezed her husband’s hand and smiled up at him. “It’s beautiful. The mason did a fine job.” “Aye. And now mum is where she should ha’ been all along—resting in peace beside her husband.” Maya studied the profile of the man standing next to her in love and pride. After almost a year and a half spent by his side, this handsome, proud warrior could still make her heart flutter like a love struck schoolgirl. She wondered in amusement if it would always be that way. Something told her it would be. This warlord, attributes and faults alike, was her heart. “What are ye thinkin’ aboot?” “Hmm?” Maya shrugged herself out of her open perusal of her husband and blinked. She realized how idiotic she must have looked staring up at him with a fantastical expression on her face. “Truthfully?” “Aye.” “I was thinking how lucky I am to have found you, how grateful I am to whatever power it was that saw fit to send me to you.”
  • 146. Thomas squeezed her hand and smiled. “’Tis I who am the lucky one, love.” “Don’t ever forget it,” she teased. “Would ye ever let me?” “Not a chance, sweetcakes.” The couple held hands and resumed their quiet contemplation of the gravesite. Maya had noticed a sense of peace, a serenity even, that had permeated Thomas’s very fiber since accepting his mother’s innocence. Thomas realized, somewhat begrudgingly, that he would never know exactly what had happened that dreadful night of Elizabeth’s death so many years ago, but he also came to terms with the fact that, whatever had happened, his mother was innocent of everything his father had been deceived into believing she was guilty of. It didn’t matter to Thomas that he had no indisputable facts to back up his confidence in his mother’s morality. He believed. It was enough for him. And that would have to be enough to satisfy the church. The MacGregor had spoken. ***** Robert MacAllister finished digging the hole into the ground and stood up. He reached into his peasant tunic and pulled out the flaming red hair he’d cut off of his head. ‘Twas passing strange, the feeling of sporting almost no hair a’tall. Still, his head no longer itched from the tiny critters that had dwelled in it for so many years. They were all cloistered inside of the bundle of hair he no longer called his own. Robert threw the pile of hair into the hole and smiled. ‘Twould be nigh to impossible to recognize him without his trademark red hair. ‘Twas smart, cutting it, just to be cautious. The MacGregors were going to have another feast within the sennight. He had heard village gossip that Lady MacGregor’s foreign homeland had a custom of celebrating the passing of the old year into the new one. The MacGregor villeins were already talking incessantly about the upcoming event, all of them elated that they were to be invited to dine just as they had been at Christmas. ‘Twas good this custom, for the days proceeding the celebration would mean an endless string of activity between the village and the keep for the next few days. Too bad he hadn’t been prepared to see his plans through at Christmas, but the MacGregor hadn’t thought him dead at the time. If the village gossips could be relied upon, then Thomas MacGregor most certainly believed him to be departed from this world now. Within the sennight, the desire that had plagued his every thought and deed for well over a year would finally come to pass. At last he’d know the pleasure of pumping his rod into the bitch’s heat, the pleasure of watching her beg for mercy as he took her life. Robert groaned. He was getting hard just thinking about it. Robert’s father had called him daft, a madman. He had told him countless times that he thanked God every day that ‘twould be his compassionate eldest son who succeeded him as laird and not his bloodthirsty second born son Robert. How bothered the old man would be to know that his heir lie beside him in a shallow grave and that he, Robert MacAllister, was The MacAllister. After all, ‘twas his father that knew his secret. ‘Twas his father who out of fear for what would become of his son, kept his mouth shut and let Angus MacGregor live out his years thinking his dead wife a faithless whore. Soon, within the sennight, Robert could go back to his keep where he belonged. He would return a hero, a conqueror, a man witty enough to have outmaneuvered the most feared laird
  • 147. in Scotland. He moaned, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. He’d better put his mind to lesser victories lest he spill his seed before the time was right. Chapter 41 “Do ye ever miss it, lass?” “The future?” “Aye.” Maya shrugged in the saddle atop her mare as she trotted alongside her husband’s powerful and much larger war-horse. They were riding together, just the two of them, as they’d done each night since Christmas. Maya was enjoying the brisk rides while she could, for she knew that her overly protective husband would forbid her to ride in another couple of months when the baby grew bigger. “Well do ye?” “No, I don’t.” She grinned sideways up to him. “There are certain conveniences in the future that I miss, but I wouldn’t trade them for all that I have here.” Thomas nodded. “I ha’ been thinking much aboot it as of late.” “Why?” “I dinna ken. I guess I never thought much on it afore because I refused tae. I always associated my feelings aboot yon future with a fear of losing ye tae it.” He shrugged. “Mayhap because I now feel secure in knowing that ye willna leave me, I allow myself tae ponder o’er what Harold and Argyle had the chance tae experience.” He sighed wistfully. “Their tales are heady ones, tae be sure.” Maya gazed up at her husband and frowned. “You are not thinking of travelling to my former time, are you?” He shook his head. “Nay. I am no’ that daft.” She released a worried breath and smiled. “Thank God for that.” “Why thank God?” “Because I’m not foolish enough to think that we would get lucky every time we used the black clouds. Fate might decide to deal a wicked hand and keep us from getting there, or keep us from getting back. We are fortunate indeed that Harold and Argyle made it to 2001 and back without incident.” Thomas agreed wholeheartedly and told her as much. “I would never try tae go, yet a part of me canna help but tae envy Harold and Argyle’s good fortune tae know of it.” Maya shook her head, letting him know that a glimpse into the future wasn’t worth all of the trouble intertwined with getting there. “Thomas, it really is no different there than it is here. People of my time want the same things, strive for the same types of goals, and so on. It’s just that we have more mechanisms in the future to strive toward our goals with.” She shrugged, realizing for the first time since her arrival that she really didn’t miss her former life in the slightest. Thomas grinned down to his wife, reaching for her hand to clasp it in his own. “Are ye just tellin’ me this tae make a mon feel better, lass, or do ye mean it true?” “I mean it, Thomas. And that’s a promise.” He nodded, accepting his lady’s words, knowing that he’d never live to see the day to
  • 148. prove her wrong anyway. He couldn’t chance leaving, never to return to his Highlands. This was home. And so much more a home now that he’d found his Maya and become a papa to his Angus and Beth. By the saints, how had he gotten so lucky? Thomas held on to his wife’s hand as he trotted next to her into the night. He gazed upward toward the starry heavens, silently thanking them for this most precious gift. ‘Twas a miracle that had brought his Maya to him. ‘Twas an even greater miracle that had given him her love. Aye, he decided, he truly was all things fortunate indeed. But why was this gift bestowed upon him in the first? He hadn’t any notion. And he didn’t really care to ponder it o’er much. Some things, he admitted to the stars twinkling above, were better off left to be appreciated in their simplicity. She was his and she loved him. ‘Twas all that mattered. Chapter 42 “Don’t you ever think about marrying and having children of your own?” Maya put the question to Patrick as she strolled with him through the lower bailey. The Hamilton had been playing on the floor of the great hall with Angus and Beth when she had first spotted him this morning, a look of sheer and total longing for his own children writ across his handsome face. Patrick had risen to his feet and bowed to Maya upon seeing her, then begged the privilege of escorting her to her husband when she announced that she was going to go find and collect Thomas. Patrick squeezed Maya’s arm and winked down at her. “How can I think of marryin’ when the only woman I should want is already happily wed?” Maya grinned up to the charming Hamilton. “I’ll take that answer as a polite and poetic way of saying ‘no’ and telling me to mind my own business.” Patrick laughed heartily, delighted by her quick wit. “’Twould be most improper fer me tae tell ye whether or no’ I was jesting.” “True.” “But I will say this: aye, I do think aboot weddin’, aboot getting a wife with my bairn. I think aboot it much more now that I see how verra happy ye ha’ made the MacGregor.” “He’s makes me just as happy.” “I know that. Ye are fortunate, both of ye, tae be so blessed.” He smiled, pondering his feelings on the subject further. “Aye milady, I want the same fer myself.” He squeezed her arm again and whispered conspiratorially down to her. “So spare me the trouble of needin’ tae find her and find a lassie as comely and spirited as ye are fer me.” Maya chuckled. “Perhaps you should speak to Thomas about how much trouble a spirited wife causes him. The man lectures me nearly every day regarding something or another I’ve done to offend the masses.” Patrick chuckled, mentally imagining the vision of it. “Yet is he contented. A mon both blind and daft could see that much.” Maya tapped her finger against her cheek as she contemplated an idea that just popped into her brain. “You know something, Patrick? You’ve just set a task before me that will give
  • 149. me a much needed distraction. Something fun that doesn’t require picking up a needle and poking the blood out of my weary fingers for entertainment.” “Oh? And what might that be, lass?” Maya grinned. “I’m going to try to help you find a wife.” ***** Patrick stood in front of the window in the chamber he was occupying at Castle MacGregor and stared down into the courtyard below. Lady Maya was down there, directing servants as to where they should place the tables that were being dragged into the castle proper for the upcoming Hogmany feast. Her long golden curls pooled about her waist like a halo, giving off the effect that she was an angel, an ethereal visitor from the heavens. Or mayhap he was being o’erly romantic. Patrick sighed as he raked a self-loathing hand through his raven black hair. What was he about, lusting after his oldest and closest friend’s wife like an ill-mannered villein? Last eve the blonde serving wench called Nicola had ridden him to orgasm three times. She was comely enough, Nicola, yet the Hamilton had closed his eyes and pretended that ‘twas Maya’s body he was pumping his seed into. With each moan his thrusts elicited from the wench, he had allowed himself to believe that ‘twas Thomas’s wife lying beneath him, trembling in his arms, begging him to give her more of his thick cock. Never had Patrick been more turned on. Never had he been more disgusted with himself. Logically, he knew it was normal for an unwedded man to lust o’er a comely woman, married or no, but realizing that fact didn’t stop the heavy pangs of guilt that corded around his heart each time he thought about pleasuring himself with the MacGregor’s lady. Thomas was a good ally, a true friend. The only he’d ever known. And here he was, ready to sell his soul to the devil himself for even one night in a bed with Lady Maya. Patrick shook his head in disgust. What a wretch he was! Chapter 43 Thomas rode his destrier swiftly through the hillside, no destination in mind. He needed to get out of the keep, needed to feel the wind at his back. And more than anything, he needed to get a reign on his fulminating temper. Something was going on in his home. Something wrong that shook him to the core of his very being. He was afraid to acknowledge his fears to himself, for it would make them seem more real. But he was beginning to fear, to truly believe, that his father’s unceremonious fate was to become his own. Only Angus’s fate had been an imagined one, whilst his might not be the musings of an overly fertile and possessive imagination. From the first of the Hamilton’s visit, Thomas had realized that his friend desired his wife. It was in Patrick’s every glance to Maya, in the way he would gaze upon her, undressing her with his eyes. It was evident in the way that he would cling to his wife’s every word, as though she were spewing forth knowledge sent directly from the heavens above.
  • 150. Thomas had said nothing, believing Patrick’s infatuation would soon pass, as all infatuations tend to do. But now he was left to wonder if he might have been wrong to do naught. Would he be forced to kill his best friend and lock his wife in the tower in order to avenge his honor? He closed his eyes against the pain, begging the saints to tell him it wasn’t so. For three days, the Hamilton had been avoiding him. And whenever Thomas did chance to run into him, he invariably found him at Maya’s skirts, tagging behind her like a besotted, untried lad. And then there was the eerie lack of eye-to-eye contact exchanged between him and Patrick as of late. Every time his friend cast his gaze his way, ‘twas always lowered, as if it was too shameful to meet his own. Thomas knew that look, knew what it meant when a man turned red in the face and looked everywhere but in your eyes whilst speaking to you. It was called guilt. Thomas had witnessed that very expression writ across the face of Dugald the day his commander-at-arms held the king’s audience. ‘Twas the day after Dugald had fucked the Bruce’s wife. Thomas clutched the ruby lying against his heart, holding it as reverently as an amulet that has the power to ward off evil. He closed his eyes briefly against the misery that permeated him. His Maya would never betray him. Please dear God in heaven, not his beloved Maya. ***** Maya stroked the sleeping heads of Angus and Elizabeth as she watched them both surrender to a blissful state of slumber. She smiled tenderly at her tiny babies who were growing more and more into their own personalities as the days went by. It was strange to think that one day too soon they would no longer be babies. They would quickly grow to be strong adults who led lives all their own. Handsome Angus would be laird of their clan one day, while beautiful little Elizabeth would be married to a powerful lord who loved her as much as Thomas loved Maya. But they would always be her beloved babies, her firstborn treasures. Maya bent down and kissed her children, then silently made her way to the door. It was time to find her husband. Thomas had been acting strange lately, as if haunted by a ghost or an impending threat he wouldn’t name. She wasn’t certain what to make of his bizarre and volatile moods for the past few days, but she was determined to find out the cause of them before this night ended. Besides, tomorrow was the feast, and she wanted her husband to enjoy himself, no ghosts allowed. Maya strolled down to the great hall and scanned it quickly for her husband. No sign of him here. There was only Argyle, Sara, and Dugald. She frowned into the throng of them, furrowing her brow. “Has anyone seen Thomas?” Sara shook her head in the negative and smiled. “No, he hasn’t been in here since midday, I think.” “Mayhap he is in the bailey,” Dugald offered. Maya nodded. “I guess all I can do is go check.” “If he is no’ there,” Argyle added, “then mayhap he joined Lord Chance and Sir Sotted fer their ride intae yon village.” He shrugged. “They mentioned that they were going tae go remind the council of the feast on the morrow.”
  • 151. “Thank-you, Argyle. I’m going to go see if he’s still in the keep.” Maya picked up her skirts and walked briskly toward the courtyard, hoping he was still within the confines of the castle. She frowned when she reached the bailey, only to find it empty. Maya ambled over to the closest castle wall and leaned against it, her arms crossed over her breasts as she contemplated the possibilities of where her husband could be. He wasn’t in the great hall. He wasn’t in the bailey. He hadn’t mentioned the desire to go riding with her tonight. Apparently Argyle was right. He had to be in the village. Where else could he be? The tiny hairs on the nape of Maya’s neck stirred, alerting her to the fact that she was no longer the only person standing in the courtyard. She whirled around with an expectant smile, hoping that it was Thomas who was approaching. “Patrick,” she whispered, trying her best to hide her disappointment. The Hamilton saw right through her effort. It pained him greatly, realizing she could never love him as she loved her husband, yet knowing at the same time that it was for the best that he force himself to acknowledge that as a fact. “I see I ha’ disappointed ye, milady. Sorry ‘tis me and no’ the MacGregor.” Maya flushed, feeling every inch the ogre hostess. “No Patrick, you haven’t disappointed me at all.” She shook her head and looked up to him. “It’s just that I can’t seem to find my husband anywhere and I’m beginning to worry about him. Do you know where Thomas is?” “Nay,” he admitted with a small sigh. “I ha’ no seen him since this afternoon.” “That seems to be the consensus around here.” She shook her head, lowering her gaze to the ground. “It’s not like him to go off without telling me his destination. I’m really starting to worry.” Patrick smiled. “He’s lucky, Thomas, tae ha’ a woman such as yerself tae fret o’er him.” Maya glanced upward at Patrick’s softly whispered words, her eyes round with a suspicion she’d been harboring for a few days now. And when he drew his hand to her cheek and stroked it longingly, her suspicion evolved into a precise confirmation. The Hamilton wanted her. “Patrick,” she whispered, reaching for his hand and removing it gently, but forcefully from her cheek. “I am flattered. Very flattered. But—” “But ye dinna love me.” He sighed. “Ye love Thomas, as ye should.” Maya nodded. “I’m sorry.” “Dinna be sorry.” Patrick flashed Maya a dimpled, but pained smile. He took a deep breath, his blue eyes briefly flickering shut. He opened them just as quickly, then bent down and kissed her chastely on the forehead. “I’m sorry fer making ye feel uncomfortable, lass. ‘Tis my problem, this lust, no’ yers.” He shook his head in regret, unable to meet her gaze. “I ha’ no’ been able tae look my own best friend in the eye fer days now, knowing I ha’ betrayed him in my thoughts.” “Patrick, I don’t think you should be telling me this.” “I ha’ tae. I ha’ tae get it off of my chest. Lass, I canna leave here without ye knowing my feelings. I love ye, Maya. I’m verra much in love with ye.” Maya stared open-mouthed at the Hamilton, unable to believe what she’d just heard. Did Thomas know his feelings? Is that why he had been avoiding her like the Black Plague lately? “Patrick,” she breathed out, “oh God, I don’t want to hurt you. And I don’t want to be the cause of a rift between you and Thomas either. I…” She shook her head and sighed. “Patrick I’m married. And happily so.” “Do ye think I dinna ken that?” he asked. “Good God Maya, I ha’ been telling myself fer days now that I canna be entertainin’ the kinds of thoughts aboot ye that I ha’ been thinkin’. He’s my best friend, by the saints!” He grimaced as he ran his fingers tersely through his hair.
  • 152. “I feel lower than an Englishmon. I know Thomas knows my feelings. He kens me tae well no’ tae.” Maya took a deep breath and reflected on everything she knew of Patrick. She thought about how honorable he was, what a good friend he had always been to Thomas, how kind and generous he was to Angus and Beth. She shook her head. “You don’t love me, Hamilton.” Patrick whirled around to face her again. “Ye canna know what I ha’ been feelin’, milady.” “You’re wrong. I can. And I know that you don’t love me.” He furrowed his brow. “I dinna ken.” Maya took a thoughtful breath of night-chilled air as she shifted a straggling curl behind her ear. “You don’t seem at all the type to fall head over heels in love with a woman you barely know, a woman you’ve spent only a few hours time with. I think that you are in love, all right, but not with me.” She shrugged. “You love what I represent.” “What ye…represent?” “Yes. You see Thomas, a hardened warlord you have known all of your life, suddenly happy and content to stay at home with his new family rather than riding off to the latest battle.” She smiled up to him, taking his hands in her own. “I see how you look at Angus and Beth. I can see the longing for a family in your eyes. “But you are the sort of man who wouldn’t realize exactly what it is that he’s wanting even when it stares him straight in the face because from what I can gather about you, you’ve always been the type to avoid committing yourself to another at any cost. And now you’re finding yourself alone, wishing for what Thomas has.” She shrugged and grinned. “I just happened to be the woman standing closest to you when you finally realized what it was you needed.” Patrick thought long and true on her words, wondering if she could possibly be right. Could she see things about him as an unbiased third party that he couldn’t see clearly for his self? She was an intelligent woman, Thomas’s wife. And then finally, after three torturously long and guilt-laden days, and three equally wretched, sleepless nights, a great burden was lifted from the Hamilton’s heavy heart. “Ye are right, milady,” Patrick whispered. He smiled slowly. “Ye are right.” “Of course I am!” Maya beamed, effectively putting an end to the somber mood swarming about them. “I’m the MacGregor’s wife, after all. I can sew together tapestries, throw together lavish feasts, and fend off hounds like Meg all in a single day’s work!” Patrick threw his head back and laughed joyously. He hadn’t felt better in…well, three days and nights to be exact. He took Maya’s arm and led her slowly back to the castle doors. “Does my good friend Thomas ken what a remarkable treasure he has found in ye?” “Hmm. I don’t know,” she teased, “but he better!” ***** From the bushes near the castle wall, Thomas stared at the backs of his departing wife and best friend. He closed his eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. “Aye, my love,” he whispered hoarsely, “I ken what ye are tae me.” And then in much relief and even more gratitude, Thomas MacGregor, the most feared laird in all of Scotland, fell to his battle-scarred knees and wept in relief. Chapter 44
  • 153. Maya sat in her bed, unable to fall asleep. Thomas still had not come home. She’d done all within her power to think on other things, to think of anything except for the gut-wrenching conclusion she’d harbored that something horrid had happened to her husband. She’d walked to the nursery three times to check in on Angus and Elizabeth. She’d sewn up the holes in two of Thomas’s tunics—and had the scabs to prove it. She’d walked the battlements, looking out into the night, praying for the smallest glimpse of him. And now she was sitting in bed, trying to concentrate on the thick book of Latin she had never managed to finish. A few minutes later, the door to the bedchamber creaked open, causing Maya to dart her gaze toward it. She sighed in relief when she realized it was Thomas coming into the room. She closed the book with a small thud and scrambled off of the bed to greet him. “Thank God,” she whispered more to herself than anyone, though he had heard her as well. She looked up at him and smiled in relief. “I was so worried about you. Are you all right?” “Aye.” Her eyes widened when it dawned on her that her husband had been crying. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, his throat rough and scratchy. “Thomas? What is wrong? Did something bad happen?” She clutched her heart. “Is it the children? I was just in the nursery, please tell me—” “Nay, the bairns are fine, love.” Maya cocked her head upwards and sideways, trying to discern what was troubling her husband. “Then what is it? Why were you crying? What is wrong?” Thomas shook his head slowly as he studied his wife’s face. He felt more love for her now than he ever had before. And that, he conceded, was saying a lot. “Nothing is wrong.” He smiled warmly. “Everything is verra right.” He held out his hands. “Come tae me, lass. Let me hold ye. Let me love ye.” Maya didn’t hesitate for even a moment. She rushed into her husband’s outstretched arms, tears welling in her eyes as he embraced her, without even knowing why. Love. There was so much love radiating from him that it overwhelmed her. “I need ye, Maya mine. I need tae make love tae ye.” Thomas dropped to the floor of the bedchamber with his wife in his arms and showed her all of the love that was bursting from his heart. He thrust into her welcoming body again and again, never wanting the moment to end, needing to stay inside of her forever. And a long while later, when he finally poured his life into her belly, he knew that he had beaten the fates. He, the MacGregor, had learned to do what his father before him never could. He had learned to trust. And now he knew peace. Chapter 45 Patrick stood next to his destrier, rubbing his hands vigorously over the warhorse’s sleek muscles to work the cramps from them. He’d ridden him hard this morning, mayhap too hard, but he’d had a lot of thinking to do and riding always helped him to clear up his jumbled thoughts. Maya was right. He did want an heir, as well as a loving wife to warm his heart and bed. She was also correct in that he had been coveting what belonged to Thomas because of what
  • 154. she represented to him. Oh, she was comely and spirited sure enough, and any man would be a fool not to notice, but she was also a symbol, a muse. She had, after all, managed to bring the most powerful and feared warlord of the remote and rugged Highlands to heel. If Thomas MacGregor could be tamed and enjoy every moment of it, then so could Patrick Hamilton. “Hamilton.” Patrick shot his gaze in the direction from where the voice had spoken. His face reddened when he met Thomas’s eyes, so he quickly looked away, back to his destrier. “MacGregor.” Thomas strolled slowly to Patrick’s side, watching him work his hands over the coat of the warhorse. He said nothing for a long moment, simply watched. “’Tis a fine piece of horseflesh, yer stallion.” Patrick nodded, but did not break his stare from the mount’s mane. “Aye. ‘Tis an Arab, this one.” Thomas said nothing for a few minutes more. And then finally, when it became obvious that the Hamilton was never going to do aught but wallow in his own self-induced state of misery, he cleared his throat and spoke quietly. “Let it go, mon.” Patrick turned hard on his heel, staring up at his old friend. He closed his eyes briefly, then flicked them back open. “She told ye, I take it.” “Nay.” Thomas grinned, throwing a hand toward the doors nearest the bailey. “I was listening in yon bushes fer the whole of it.” “The whole of it?” Patrick choked out. “Aye.” Patrick blushed, then turned around to rub down the stallion once again. “Ye must think me no’ a mon worthy of callin’ friend anymore.” He took a deep breath. “And I canna say I blame ye.” “Nay, ye are wrong.” Patrick dropped his head onto his chest and closed his eyes briefly. “I canna think much of myself, Thomas, so how can ye?” “Because I know ye.” “What do ye mean?” He turned around and regarded his closest comrade and friend. Thomas scratched his chin, then ran his fingers through his mane of shoulder-length black hair. He looked up to the heavens as if searching them for the appropriate words, then back to the Hamilton once again. “Fer the past few days I ha’ been knowing that ye was feelin’ guilty o’er somethin’ ye had done.” He shook his head. “I ha’ tae admit that I ha’ been wantin’ tae kill ye, fer I thought that ye had fucked my wife. Ye can imagine my relief when I heard ye talkin’ tae Maya and I realized yer guilt was due tae yer thoughts and no’ yer actions.” Patrick laughed humorlessly, shaking his head in vexation with himself. “Guilt does no’ begin tae describe it,” he mumbled. Thomas smiled. “I know it now.” He shrugged. “I canna blame any mon fer lustin’ my wife, fer he’d ha’ tae be nigh dead or a catamite no’ tae, but I thank ye fer being a mon honorable enough tae no’ tae do anything o’er it except think on it.” Patrick flushed, shifting back and forth on his feet. “I canna believe ye are letting this go so easily.” He shook his head. “I dinna think I would.” “Ye are right, fer ‘tis no’ the Scottish way. Yet ye are a friend, and because ye are, ye ha’ punished yerself enough.” Thomas placed his hands on his hips and regarded him. “There is no need tae issue challenge fer naught happened. Yer conscience ha’ punished ye more than I ever could fer yer lustin’ and I am content with that. I hold ye no ill will, Hamilton, fer if ye were no’ a true friend then yer conscience would ha’ suffered naught.” Patrick smiled as he reflected on Thomas’s words. “Ye are right. I ha’ been punishing
  • 155. myself much. And I did deserve tae.” He grimaced, running his hand through his hair in agitation. “Yet am I ready tae let it go. I want our easy camaraderie back, my friend.” “As do I.” Patrick nodded, pleased. “Then what do we do?” Thomas clapped his hand on the Hamilton’s back. “First, ye thank me fer doin’ this.” He swung his arm back with all his might, let it rip loose, and punched Patrick square on the jaw. The Hamilton fell unceremoniously to the ground, rubbing his aching jaw as he lay sprawled before Thomas’s feet. “Thank ye? I thought ye had forgiven me?” he asked incredulously. The MacGregor winked in return. “Now I ha’..” Patrick stared up at Thomas wide-eyed. And then slowly, he grinned. He threw his head back and laughed. “Now we both feel better?” At the MacGregor’s nod, Patrick rose to his feet and smiled. “Thank ye.” “Yer welcome.” ***** “Damn!” Maya threw her defeated hand of cards at Argyle, the three sugar-rolled ginger candies she’d just lost to him soon following. Argyle caught the candies with his mouth, gobbled them down, then rubbed his belly dramatically to goad her further. Thomas and Patrick laughed, both of them watching intently to learn how the game of poker was played. Sara shuffled the cards, then dealt out the next hand to Maya, Argyle, Harold, her father, and herself. She glanced over to the two lairds and smiled. “Are you two ready to join in?” “Nay,” Patrick chuckled. “I should watch a bit more afore I go losin’ my life’s work tae the young knight.” Thomas seconded that, then said, “Where is yer husband?” “Dugald is out scouting with his men.” She shrugged, seemingly not worried. “Looking for the MacAllister as usual.” She finished dealing, then picked up her hand. Harold scanned his cards, regarded them with dramatically greedy eyes, and smiled smugly. “I dinna need another. This hand is worthy already.” “You’re bluffing.” Reginald waved his hand through the air. “All you ever do is bluff. Sara, dear, give me two.” “Bluff? Now see here, Reggie, I dinna bluff this time. Ye will ken that soon enough when ye ha’ no ginger candies left tae speak of.” Harold grunted, frowning. He poked his finger toward Maya and Argyle. “These tae here are the lord and lady of yon clan called Bluff.” “I dinna bluff,” Argyle stated matter-of-factly. “My lady cousin will tell ye as much.” Maya grinned. “He’s right. He never learned how to. His face always turns red when he tells a lie.” “Ha!” Harold and Reginald challenged in unison. Reginald shot a scolding finger toward Argyle. “His face didn’t redden during his last sorry hand, but he got you to fold and all he held were two eights.” Maya’s eyes rounded to the shape of saucers. She scrunched up her face and shot a scathing look Argyle’s way. “Two eights?” Argyle shrugged unrepentantly. “’Tis war, these cards.” “War? I’ll show you war, Argyle! Sara!” she shouted, “give me one!” Laughter sounded throughout the parlor. Sara grinned, then exchanged one of Maya’s cards for the one on top of the turned over deck.
  • 156. Maya picked up the card she’d been dealt, then smiled sweetly towards Argyle. “Are you staying with your hand or do you wish to trade, sweetcakes?” She smiled at him again, a wicked gleam in her eye. Argyle gulped, his eyes rounded. He took a deep breath, then sighed in acquiescence. “Give me three,” he declared morosely. ***** “I thank ye fer fergivin’ me, milady.” Patrick smiled down to Maya as they strolled through the courtyard, surveying the last of the tables that were being dragged into the great hall for tonight’s feast. Maya shook her head, squeezing his arm. “There was nothing to forgive.” She paused for a moment, then added. “Did you think about what I said last night?” “Aye,” he admitted. “Verra much. And, of course, ye are right. I am no’ in love with ye.” Maya came to an abrupt halt and swung around to regard the Hamilton with a frown. “You don’t have to be so damn blunt about it!” Patrick laughed. “Nay milady, what I meant tae say is that I shall love ye always, but I shall be noble aboot it and love ye from a far.” Maya grinned. She jabbed her finger in his chest. “Better!” Patrick chuckled, then reached for her arm and resumed their walk through the bailey. “Seriously, Maya, and I dinna say this tae be sweet—ye are a wonderful woman. Thomas is verra lucky indeed. And though I canna say I would no’ feel different if the circumstances themselves were different and I had met ye afore the MacGregor did, I realize now that I did fall in love more with what ye gave tae Thomas than the woman herself.” He shook his head longingly. “Ye ha’ brought him much.” Maya smiled warmly into Patrick’s handsome face and squeezed his arm once more. “You know something? I’ve always had good intuition and right now my intuition is telling me that you are going to meet the right woman for you very soon.” Patrick sighed. “How can ye know?” Maya grinned mischievously. “I am wife to the MacGregor!” He laughed. “Aye! How could I ferget?” They walked in silence until they reached the castle doors. Then Patrick leaned down and whispered, “do ye ken who she is?” “I know who she’s not.” “Oh do ye now? And who is she no’?” “She is not”—she thrust out her bosom mockingly—“Meg.” Patrick roared with laughter, causing the heads of servants and knights alike to turn briefly toward them. He grinned down to her, truly amused. “I shall endeavor tae remember that.” Chapter 46 Thomas and Maya lay sprawled across their bed, both sweating and sated from their lovemaking. Maya had given him two climaxes in an hour’s time. He smiled in satisfaction, knowing it would always be good between them, their lovin’. The more they came to know
  • 157. the wants of the other, the more fulfilling their passion became. Thomas ran his large, battle worn hand over Maya’s silken belly and grinned. “I canna believe ye are breedin’ so soon after Angus and Beth.” Maya glanced up at him and chuckled. “I shouldn’t be.” “Why do ye say that, as much as I mount ye?” He ran his fingers over her still plumped up nipple and rubbed it gently between thumb and forefinger. Maya sucked in her breath. “Stop!” she half laughed and half begged as she removed her husband’s hand from her breast. “If you get me going again we’ll be late for the feast!” “I dinna mind, vixen.” Maya smiled up to him, bringing his mouth down to cover her own. She slipped her tongue inside of his parted lips and mated with his wet mouth for a long moment. Thomas rolled on top of his wife and settled between her thighs, releasing her from their kiss to stare down at her. He gently probed at the outer recesses of her slippery flesh with his erection. “Why did ye say ye should no’ be with my bairn?” he whispered thickly. Maya’s eyes glazed over in need as she wrapped her arms around him and ran her fingers over his buttocks. “Breast feeding is supposed to make it difficult to conceive,” she breathed out. “And I was still breast feeding when I became pregnant.” “Ah. Then how can ye be with my bairn?” he asked. Maya arched her hips in invitation as she grabbed a steely buttock in each hand and squeezed. “I don’t know, but I’m certain I am.” “So ‘tis no’ impossible?” “Apparently not.” Thomas slid into his wife in one smooth stroke. He gritted his teeth in pleasure against the tight resistance her body always gave his thick shaft. Her moan made his teeth grind harder. “When will my bairn be birthed? How far along—” “Thomas,” Maya chided as she gently covered his mouth with her hand. “Aye?” he mumbled from beneath her closed fingers. “Please hush.” Thomas removed his wife’s hand from his mouth as he surged deeply into her tight opening. She groaned in response. “Ye dinna want me tae talk?” he whispered against her neck, sending goose pimples coursing down her spine. “Not unless its dirty,” she qualified with another groan of pleasure. “Dirty, hm?” He stroked into her again, thrusting into her to the hilt. She moaned, as he knew she would. “Ye dinna mind then if I tell ye of how tight yer sheath is, and of how much I love tae fuck ye?” “I don’t mind,” she admitted on a moan. He seated himself fully, rocking slowly in and out of her slick passage, from head to hilt, over and over again. He thrust into her as deeply as possible, then stilled, grabbing handfuls of her golden hair in his fists. “Who does yer wee body belong tae?” he asked through narrowed, lust-filled eyes. “To the MacGregor,” she whispered without hesitation. “Aye,” he agreed. “And dinna be fergettin’ it.” He thrust into her savagely, then rode her fast and ferociously. Maya trembled beneath him as he drove her to climax, each hard thrust sending a new wave of pleasure rippling through her. He was primitively sexual, her husband, and she knew there was no better aphrodisiac than that knowledge. She climaxed again, calling out his name as he pounded violently into her flesh. He shouted out not a moment later, spurting himself deep into her belly as she
  • 158. pulsed around his cock. They lay intertwined in each other’s arms, spent and well sated, breathing deeply to still their ragged breaths. “Should we call up a bath afore we go downstairs?” Thomas asked. Maya smiled. “Of course. I look like hell.” “Ye could never look like hell tae me.” “Thomas?” “Aye?” “I love you.” “I know it, Maya mine. And I love ye.” ***** The revelry and merry-making of MacGregors and Hamiltons could be heard throughout the keep and no doubt for miles away. The sound of lutes and bagpipes carried out into the night, the smell of meatpies, breads, stews, candies, and berry tarts wafting onto the breeze. Robert MacAllister watched from the trees as another group of villeins made their way through the castle gates. He motioned to four of his hired men, all as bloodthirsty as their master. They stepped from the cover of the trees in fluid strides, blending into the group of commoners with ease. Robert smiled. Two days ago he had all but given up, realizing upon reaching the abandoned escape route that it was no longer abandoned. ‘Twas now sealed off. But he was here, walking through the castle doors in his grubby crofter’s clothing with his henchmen in tow. And no one was the wiser. Robert spotted his quarry not a minute after emerging into the expansive great hall. She was standing next to a pregnant wench, clapping her hands in time with the music as she watched her husband dance. Robert grew immediately erect. ‘Twas too damned easy, this. Chapter 47 Maya watched in amusement as her husband and Maris danced through the great hall in tune with the music. She felt a little sorry for her man, knowing better than anybody just how fully he’d spent himself only an hour prior in their bedchamber. Indeed, he was having a hell of a time keeping up with the spirited midwife cum governess. “Go easy on me, lassie,” Thomas teased as he picked Maris up and whirled her around. “No’ a chance,” she laughed right back. “I dinna think yer being fair tae yer laird. My wife has used me good this eve.” Maris clucked her tongue, but didn’t relent. “And what do ye think me and Lord Chance do when we disappear from yon hall? Sew tapestries and sing ballads?” Thomas chuckled heartily. “Nay, lass, I dinna think it. And when, pray tell, is Reginald going tae make an honest lady of ye?” “At Michaelmas.” “Michaelmas? Why wait ‘til September when he can wed ye now?” “Because,” Maris winked, “I enjoy playing mistress tae my Reggie. Get’s me more gifts, I’m thinkin’.” Thomas boomed out a rich sound of laughter as he picked up Maris and twirled her around. “Vixen.”
  • 159. Maya and Sara laughed from the audience, both of them having heard the conversation between the laird and governess. Maya turned her attention away from them and scanned the group of dancers for some more familiar faces. She shook her head and chuckled, nudging Sara to look in the direction of Sir Harold and his ladylove who were in the huge parlor adjacent to the great hall. As vast as the great hall was, the parlor had been opened up to accommodate all of the merrymakers and a second parlor had been readied in case it was needed. “Why is she swatting his hand away?” Sara asked, wrinkling her nose and standing on tiptoe to see above the crowd. Maya rolled her eyes. “He’s groping her like the pervert that he is.” Sara chuckled. “Ah, it looks as though the Hamilton is saving poor embarrassed Helen from Harold’s overly zealous clutches.” The two friends chuckled, having a great time of it this evening. Reginald strutted up to Maya and Sara a few minutes later and bowed formally to them. He glanced at Maya and winked. “Since your husband throws a wild fit any time a man approaches you, I will not be asking you to dance, Maya dear.” Maya placed her hands indignantly on her hips. “He does not!” “Yes he does!” “Well I’m sure he’d make the exception for you, Daddy C.” Reginald grimaced. “I don’t think I’m good enough at my sword play just yet to test that theory.” “Daddy!” Sara shook her head. “You’re too much.” “And what about you, daughter of mine?” Reginald asked with a smile. “Your husband and Lady Lena are dancing, so will you give your old man the privilege of claiming this dance?” Sara grabbed his hand and smiled. “You better believe it.” A scarce moment later, Sir Argyle scooped Lady Maya up off of the ground and twirled her around. She threw her head back and laughed, enjoying every moment of it. “I take it you have forgiven me for winning all of the ginger candies back from you this afternoon, Argyle?” “Aye,” he admitted with a feigned grumble. “I ha’ forgiven ye, milady cousin, yet ha’ I no’ forgiven yer husband.” “Ah,” Maya teased, “still upset that he learned the game so quickly, eh?” “’Twas beginners luck, I’m thinkin’, yet am I glad tae be grievin’ him sorely just now.” “Grieving him? How so?” Argyle showed a dimpled, mischievous grin. “If I ken the laird, and ye can best believe that I do, then he is glaring daggers at my back even now fer darin’ tae dance with his lady wife.” Maya laughed in disbelief, but cocked her head to see if he was right. “Well I’ll be damned,” she breathed out, trying to keep a straight face. “He really is glaring daggers at you.” Argyle smiled triumphantly. “It’s good fer the mon, I’m thinkin’.” Maya considered that notion a moment, a wicked gleam Argyle knew all too well glowing in her eyes. “He does um”—she coughed discreetly—“perform awfully well when he’s jealous.” “Hmm,” Argyle prodded, “then leave it tae yer favorite cousin tae see ye well bedded this eve.” “What do you mean?” “Do as I say and wrap yer arms aboot my neck, tight as ye can now, lass.”
  • 160. Maya complied, giggling at their plan as Argyle whirled her around in a circle and danced with her body pressed close to his. “He’ll be here any moment,” Argyle whispered conspiratorially. “’Tis only so much the possessive mon will be able tae handle, wed tae his cousin or no.” “Argyle!” Thomas bellowed from across the courtyard. He released Maris into Reginald’s arms and strode swiftly toward his wife and cousin. “Ye ha’ danced with my lady long enough, ye ken? Go find yer own wife!” Thomas plucked Maya from Argyle’s grasp in one fell swoop, then shoved her body tightly against his own. Maya winked at Argyle from over her husband’s shoulder, mouthing a silent “thank-you”. Argyle chuckled, shaking his head in mirth as he meandered his way through the courtyard to claim his wife from Sir Dugald. “Ye will dance with no more men this eve, Maya, do ye ken?” “Thomas,” Maya answered, “Argyle is the only man I have danced with besides you all evening long.” The MacGregor’s nostrils flared as he glared down at the wife he had plastered against his side like a piece of baggage. “There is no’ a thing wrong with that, lass, that I can tell ye.” He growled, the vein at his temple ticking next to his plaited braid. “I’m thinkin’ ye need reminded of just who ye belong tae, wife.” Maya gulped. Desire coursed through her blood. She hadn’t expected him to react so swiftly, but she decided against complaining about it. She and Argyle would have to put their heads together more often. Maya smoothed her hands across her husband’s face and tugged gently at the braids at either side of his temple. She kissed him provocatively on the mouth. “I think you’re right, husband. Please remind me.” Thomas growled, fiercely erect. He planted his wife on one hip and marched across the great hall, carrying her away like a rag doll. He found an empty chamber at the castle’s west wing and hoisted her up against its wall. Lifting her skirts, he shoved his plaid out of the way, and drove into her full force. “Tell me. Now,” he gritted out as he surged into her. “Who does this wet flesh belong tae?” “To the MacGregor,” she moaned, wrapping her legs around his hips. “To you.” “Always,” he growled, pounding into her slick flesh over and over again. Clasping her buttocks with his callused hands, he picked up the pace of their lovemaking and thrust into her mercilessly. Maya groaned as she secreted away a smile. Her eyes rolled back into her head. Yep, she and Argyle would definitely have to talk more often. Chapter 48 Maya all but skipped up to her bedchamber to clean herself up from the sticky after-effects of her husband’s recent lovemaking. She hurried her step, for she didn’t want to miss the feast that cook and his helpers would be spreading out any time now. She could smell the scent of
  • 161. the meal in the air rising up from the kitchens, and knew it would be as good as it smelled. Cook’s fare had become that of a top rate chef ever since Harold and Argyle had brought back buckets of spices from the future. Maya picked up her skirts and ran up the stairs and then smack dab into the solid chest of an almost bald villager. It was like hitting a wall of steel, she mused. “Oh hello there. I’m sorry I didn’t see you. Are you lost?” Robert MacAllister smiled sweetly down to her, bowing politely. “Nay, milady, I ha’ been waiting fer ye.” “For me?” “Aye.” He grabbed her forcefully by the back of the head, clapping a hand over her mouth to quiet her inevitable screams. “I ha’ been waiting fer ye fer a verra long time, sweet.” He replaced his hand with his mouth, branding her painfully on the lips. He then forced Maya’s hand down between his legs so she could feel the fierce erection she had caused him to have. Maya bit down on his lip, causing blood to spurt from it. “Ye bitch!” he yelled, releasing her to smack her soundly across the face. Maya fell to the floor, but didn’t waste a precious moment. She screamed at the top of her lungs, shouting her husband’s name in a panic. Robert jerked her to her feet and clamped his hand down roughly over her mouth again. They struggled together for long moments until Robert regained control of the situation and secured Maya firmly, irrevocably, against his side. He smacked her across the face again, then picked her up and carried her down the hall, opening the door to the chamber where this had all began so many years ago. ***** Little Margaret, named after her mother, had been awoken by her lady’s screams. She clapped her hands over her five-year-old ears, afraid that her mother’s friend was dying. Margaret glanced over to her brother as well as to Angus and Elizabeth, whom she had recently slumbered next to in the nursery, then made her way toward the chamber door. She opened it quietly, afraid her mum or da’ would catch her and tan her hide. The lady was crying. A bad man was hurting her. ***** The laughter, music, and dancing in the great hall and beyond wound up into an all-time frenzy. Thomas smiled triumphantly as he ambled through the crowd and made a beeline toward the Hamilton. He clapped his friend on the back. “Are ye enjoyin’ yerself?” Patrick grinned wickedly up to Thomas and nodded. “Several times already tonight, my friend.” Thomas hooted with laughter, glad for his success with the ladies. He winked at him. “As long as it is no’ with Maya, ye are welcome tae the spoils.” Patrick laughed. “Let us no’ speak of that, I beg ye.” He surveyed the crowd speculatively, glancing all around them. “Yer wife can throw a festive good time fer a certainty.” “That she can.” “Where is she anyway? I ha’ no’ seen her aboot in quite some time.” Thomas frowned. “I canna say. ‘Tis been a goodly while since I left her. I was aboot tae look fer her when I spotted ye o’er here.” “Let us look together then. We will be eatin’ the soonest.” Thomas and Patrick wandered through the crowd, scanning it for any traces of Maya.
  • 162. They came to a halt a few minutes later, defeated. “I dinna see her anywhere,” Patrick admitted. “Nor do I,” Thomas said, scratching his chin in puzzlement. “’Tis no’ like my wife tae miss out on a party.” Patrick straightened his back and narrowed his eyes as his gaze stopped upon one man in particular. The tiny hairs at the nape of his neck electrified and he knew in an instant something wasn’t right. The villein. He was too familiar. “Thomas.” “Aye?” “What name does that villein go by?” “Who?” Patrick nodded toward the commoner standing on the far side of the great hall. The dark-haired man was feeling up a serving wench, laughing to his friends as she pushed him away. “I dinna know him,” Thomas admitted with a frown. “But he is aboot tae know of me. My clan kens well that I dinna tolerate usin’ a woman against her will.” They stood there for a moment, watching in silence, deciding to do nothing for the time since the man had let the wench go. And then it dawned on Patrick as recognition bore down. His eyes widened. “Thomas, that mon is no’ a villein.” “Hm?” Patrick turned to face him. “Somethin’ is verra wrong, my friend. I know that mon from Bannockburn. Mad as a dog he is!” He pointed vehemently toward him. “That mon is a knight, yet is he dressed in the coarse clothes of a commoner.” Thomas squinted at the man in question with a frown. “But why—” He took a steadying breath as he unsheathed his sword. “I dinna need tae ask,” he announced as he strode quickly through the crowd and straight toward his quarry. “Aye,” Patrick hissed from his side. “He’s one of the MacAllister’s.” If Thomas had any doubts as to whether or not Patrick had been right in his thinking, they were laid to rest when the stranger and his three “villein” friends saw the MacGregor and the Hamilton heading their way like two men possessed. The MacAllister’s men unsheathed the swords that had been hidden from view by their cloaks and shouted their war cry in unison. Thomas and Patrick shouted theirs, all hell effectively breaking loose. From across the way, Harold and Reginald stood with Dugald and Argyle and laughed it up as all but Harold drank down their ale. Out of the corner of his eye, Harold noticed a blur of movement. He cocked his head to see what was happening, his eyes widening in understanding as the MacGregor shouted a cry of vengeance that couldn’t be heard over the noise, then slashed his sword down onto a man, beheading him with one strike. He unsheathed his sword and bellowed, “Tae arms!” Dugald and Argyle reacted right away, securing their swords from their scabbards and heading toward the laird at top speed. Reginald stood staring, mouth agape, at the bloodbath unfolding before his very eyes. “Come Reggie! We must fight like men!” Harold shouted. Reginald blinked, his mouth parched. “Hell nooooo!” he shouted, not caring who heard him act the coward. “Reggie!” Harold growled. “Ye can do it! ‘Tis part of life here. What of yer pregnant daughter? Will ye ha’ her raped and murdered tae keep ye from wielding a sword, mon?” Reginald swallowed roughly, wide-eyed. He shook his head in the negative, then followed Harold in a mad dash toward the heart of the drama. “Shit!” Dr. Chance shouted as they ran. “I never thought I’d actually have to use this goddamned thing!”
  • 163. Chapter 49 “My husband will kill you, you bastard!” Maya watched the MacAllister’s every move in apprehension as she lay bound at the wrists on the dust-coated bed, her face in great pain and her entire body shaking. Robert slowly disrobed before her, then shrugged. “Mayhap.” He smiled. “But I will use ye well first.” He grinned, merriment twinkling in his mad eyes. “Just like I used his mum.” Maya sucked in her breath, her eyes widening. “You killed her.” It was a statement, not a question, but the MacAllister treated it as the latter. “Aye. I had me a sportin’ good time afore I sank my dagger through the whoor’s heart.” “You make me sick.” Robert laughed, enjoying and savoring each moment of this long awaited conquest. He threw his plaid to the floor, standing before the bed fully erect. “Call me what ye will, but ken that ye are aboot tae get the fuckin’ of yer life.” “With that little worm?” Maya taunted, not caring whether or not she angered him. If she was going to be raped and murdered, then she’d at least mock him with all she had. “It would be more like a tickling.” “Ye bitch!” he spat, his face beet-red with anger. “I’ll show ye a worm!” ***** “Where is she?” Thomas bellowed. “Has anyone seen my wife?” The MacGregor didn’t wait for an answer as he charged through the corridors with the Hamilton, Dugald, and Argyle at his heels. “She is no’ in her chamber!” Argyle announced. “I ha’ already looked.” They strode up the stairs, taking two at a time, then came to a halt at the top. “Who is the lassie?” Patrick asked. “My mon Stephen’s daughter,” Thomas replied absently as he strode past her and threw open the doors to the nursery to make certain his children were unharmed. He closed the doors a moment later, vastly relieved for his bairns, yet fearful for their mother. Thomas looked down at little Margaret, then squatted to pat her atop the head. Her eyes were round with fright. “What is it, lassie? Ye are no’ scared of the likes of me, are ye?” She shook her head no. “Then what is it?” he prodded. “’Tis…‘tis…the bad mon.” Four ears perked up at that telling bit of information. Thomas’s eyes widened in surprise and much apprehension. “Ye ha’ seen the Lady MacGregor, sweeting?” She nodded. Thomas took a deep breath to steady himself, knowing he’d never get anything out of the wee one if he frightened her. “Where did she go, lassie?” Margaret pointed down the left corridor, a wing not often used. “The…the bad mon weeth no hair took milady there. Milady cried when he hurt her weeth his fist.” The hair on the nape of Thomas’s neck stood up. He managed to remain calm, shooing the girl into the nursery. “That’s a good lassie. Stay here and watch o’er my bairns until I come fer ye. Bolt the doors behind ye.” Margaret nodded, her eyes wide as he closed the door quietly behind her. Thomas turned hard on his heel and ran down the corridor. “Split up! Each of ye search a different chamber!”
  • 164. ***** Maya screamed as Robert struck her in the face, then flailed her feet at him as he tried to lift her chemise. She was beginning to worry that Thomas wouldn’t arrive in time. Her hands bound and useless, Robert had already managed to tear her gown from her. “Bastard!” He laughed, undaunted. “Keep fighting me, lass. I love it, I do. Makes it the sweeter.” Robert ripped her chemise from her body, the silk shredding into two pieces. “Mmm,” he grinned as he scanned her naked body appreciatively. “I think I may be fuckin’ ye fer awhile.” Maya screamed at the top of her lungs, praying that someone—anyone—would hear her. Fear lanced through her body when she realized that all the MacAllister had to do was spread her legs. And then he’d be able to rape her. The chamber doors burst open a moment later. Maya darted her gaze to the door, then smiled, tears of hysteria stinging her eyes. It was Thomas. He had made it in time. Robert leapt from the bed, grabbing his sword, and gave his war cry. Thomas cried his. Maya turned her face from the inevitable carnage, knowing without looking who would emerge victor and who would leave the chamber a dead man. Patrick and Argyle arrived a moment later, saw that Thomas was taking care of the MacAllister well enough, then sprinted toward Maya who lay bound, naked, and sobbing on the bed. Argyle reached her first. Argyle removed his dagger from his plaid and slashed open the ropes that had cut into her skin and held her hostage. Maya threw her arms around his neck and held on for dear life, crying uncontrollably. “Did he rape ye?” Argyle demanded as he deposited her onto his lap and stroked her hair. She continued to cry, unable to speak. Finally, she shook her head in the negative. Both men let out a collective, relieved breath. “But it was close. So close,” she cried, hugging herself tighter against Argyle. “Oh God Argyle!” Patrick pulled his tunic off from over his head, then gently reached toward Maya. “Here lass, put this on.” Maya looked up to the Hamilton through tear-soaked eyes and nodded in thanks. She drew herself up from Argyle’s lap and stood before Patrick, her arms raised above her head, still in a state of shock, oblivious to her nudity. Patrick placed the tunic over her head gently, covering her body once again. “Ye’ve a nice arse,” Argyle announced, hoping to prod Maya out of shock and into laughter. Patrick smiled down to her, a twinkle in his sea blue eyes. Maya gulped, swinging her wide-eyed gaze around to Argyle. At his grin, she understood what he was trying to do. She smiled slowly, thankful she was blessed with so many who cared for her—and for her sanity—so greatly. She emitted a guttural sound, half laugh and half cry, then flung herself at both men. “I love you! Both of you!” “And what aboot me?” Maya released the men who had freed her from the ropes and whirled around at the sound of her husband’s voice. She began to cry again, unable to stop. She held out her arms, unable to move. Thomas swept her up without hesitation, pulling her tightly against him. Over his shoulder, she saw Dugald place a sheet over the remains of Robert MacAllister and was thankful to him that she hadn’t had to see the deranged, sadistic man’s face again. Thomas held his wife reverently, afraid to put her down, afraid beyond reason to let her
  • 165. go. She clung to him, telling him without words how much she would always need him. Chapter 50 Thomas and Maya MacGregor strolled hand-in-hand through the grounds of the fair, Angus and Elizabeth bouncing along in front of them, unable to contain their brewing excitement. “Angus! Beth!” Thomas bellowed. “Get ye back here with yer mum and da’, the soonest.” The children readily complied, turning around and skidding to wobbly halts in front of their parents. Thomas released his wife’s hand and squatted down to meet his bairns at their eye level. He winked at both of them as he enveloped his firstborn son and daughter into a MacGregor huddle. “Ye will stay right close and dinna be runnin’ off else yer mean ole mum will no’ let yer da’ buy yer sweet treats, ye ken?” “I heard that!” Maya laughed. Thomas glanced up to her and feigned ignorance. “I dinna ken yer meanin’, wife.” “Ha!” Thomas grinned at his love, then turned to his children once more. “We are goin’ tae yon booth tae get us some treats. Do ye want da’ tae carry ye?” Elizabeth reached out her arms, her tri-colored eyes twinkling as she smiled. Thomas scooped her up and kissed her on the cheek. “I knew ye would want da’ tae carry ye, poppet. And what of ye, Angus?” Angus grinned up to his father and waited for him to throw him over his shoulder. And when he did, he laughed with a bubbly mirth that only a one-year-old child can laugh with. “Thomas, be careful with him please,” Maya chided. “Hush yer tongue, harridan. I am playing with my bairns.” Maya rolled her eyes in amusement and conceded. When it came to his children, Thomas knew what he was about. Then again, the MacGregor always seemed to know what he was about. The foursome wandered over to the closest booth hocking sweet treats and purchased four different varieties of candied currants and honeyed concoctions. Thomas paid the fare in gold coin, then tried to set the children down so they could eat. Angus went down easily, bounding over toward his mother to clasp her hand, his treats held firmly in his other. Elizabeth, however, was having none of that. “What’s the matter, Beth, my poppet? Can yer da’ no’ put ye down long enough tae eat?” Elizabeth shook her head in the negative, dramatically perching her lower lip outward. Thomas chuckled. “Ye ha’ me wrapped aboot yer wee finger, do ye no’?” Elizabeth smiled, grabbing for the braids at either side of her father’s temple. She tugged on them gently and giggled, then leaned in closer to him and kissed him soundly on his cheek. “Weel, when ye put it like that, lassie, how can I refuse ye?” Maya laughed at her daughter’s antics as she picked up her son and kissed him on top of his head. She waddled over to her husband’s side and smiled up to her daughter, kissing her on her tiny hand. “Maya!” Thomas lectured, his eyes narrowed. “Ye will give me my son. I will carry both of
  • 166. my bairns do they want held.” Maya rolled her eyes dramatically toward the heavens. “Thomas—” “Maya, I will no’ listen tae arguments from ye. Yer belly is round with bairn and I will no’ ha’ ye liftin’. ‘Tis final, my word.” “How are you going to eat?” “Ye can feed me. Give me Angus.” Ten minutes later, Sir Argyle and Lady Lena found the laird balancing a child at each hip while he opened his mouth and let his bairns toss candies into it. Lena giggled. “Watch the laird and see how ‘tis done, Argyle.” She patted her slightly swollen belly. “’Twill be yer time soon enough.” “Listen tae my cousin, lad,” Thomas nodded. “Watch the master and learn,” he boasted. “Oh please,” Maya retorted, shaking her head. Argyle grinned. “If the bairn my Lena gives tae me willna give me their candies, then I guess I will ha’ tae win them at the cards from my lady cousin.” Maya frowned. “You win one time this week and it goes straight to your big head.” Lena and Thomas laughed, knowing how seriously Maya and Argyle took their poker games. Sir Dugald and Lady Sara meandered through the crowd and found their way to the rest of the group. Dugald had a sleeping baby Niall, named after his grandfather, slung over his shoulder. “Hi guys!” Maya said. “Where have you been?” “Waiting on Dugald,” Sara admitted in obvious vexation. “Dinna be takin’ that tone, wife,” Dugald scolded. “I was waitin’ fer yon rider tae leave.” He winked at his wife and smiled. “I was no’ o’er long, was I?” She grinned. “No, not really.” Thomas’s ears perked up at Dugald’s words. He gobbled down the candy Angus threw into his mouth, then inclined his head to his commander. “What rider do ye speak of?” “Oh, I almost forgot,” Dugald admitted as he rubbed Niall’s back. “’Twas a Hamilton rider. Patrick should be tae the keep by nightfall.” “Patrick?” Maya repeated. “It will be good to see him. It’s been so long!” “Aye,” Argyle seconded, scratching his chin. “He left a few days after the new year. We ha’ no’ had the chance tae see him since.” Thomas nodded. “’Twill be good tae see him again.” Lord Reginald and Sir Harold strutted over to the family, arms filled with various sweet treats. Harold stopped before Maya and bowed. “Ye see I ha’ stocked up on the candies, lassie. I’m right ready fer yer wicked card playin’, so ye had best ha’ the MacGregor stock up fer ye as well.” “Now see here,” Reginald barbed. “Maya doesn’t need to stock up on anything when she can get all of her candies winning them from you.” “What are ye tryin’ tae say, Reggie?” Harold growled. “I think I said it plain enough, Harry.” Dinna be callin’ me Harry, Reggie.” “Don’t call me Reggie, Harry.” “Oh? And what will ye do aboot it, ye woman?” “Woman? Now see here you addle-witted idiot!” “Addle witted idiot? I am rubber, ye are glue—” “Whatever ye say,” a group of grinning MacGregors finished for the warrior minstrel, “bounces off my fine form and sticks tae the likes of ye!”
  • 167. Harold grunted. “’Tis true, these words.” Maya patted Harold affectionately on the back. “I see some things never change. I—” She paused, her eyes widening. Thomas squinted his confusion, cocking his head toward his wife. “What is it, love?” Maya smiled, in irony and anticipation. “I think there’s something about fairs that bring out the baby in me…literally.” “The baby!” Sara shouted, laughing. “Harold! Argyle!” Thomas bellowed. “Aye?” “Ye will take my bairns that I might carry my wife back tae yon keep.” Harold scooped Angus from the laird’s arms and Argyle reached for Elizabeth. Thomas picked his wife up and cradled her into the protection of his muscled chest. “Reginald!” he shouted. “Yes?” “Ye will acquire Maris, then come see tae the delivery.” He paused, frowning. “And ye will no’ look o’er long a’tween my wife’s legs whilst ye do it.” Reginald rolled his eyes. “She is like a daughter to me, Thomas.” The MacGregor grunted. “Thomas!” Maya scolded. “I want to lie down in my bed. Please growl later!” He grunted again. Then he turned to command Sara. “Let us go, lass.” Sara grinned, saluting Thomas as she strolled over to his side. “Aye, aye captain!” He furrowed his brow, but said nothing. Thomas took a deep breath, then addressed the group as a whole. “I dinna mean tae yell at the lot of ye, but this birthin’ business is hard on a mon.” “Hello! Hello!” Maya shouted. “I think I might be the one who’s actually having the baby!” Thomas merely grunted at that. A moment later he took off running like a bat out of hell toward their home, Sara hard at his heels. “Well,” Argyle smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. “’Tis time tae break out the good ale.” ***** Thomas accepted the tankard of ale that was handed to him, then continued to pace back and forth before the hearth in the great hall. Angus sat atop Argyle’s lap, laughing uproariously as they played a spirited game of horsy. Elizabeth sat on the floor, playing with the dolly her papa had purchased for her today at the fair. Niall cooed up to his father, grinning as he used his strong legs to try and stand up on Dugald’s lap. “Ye are making me dizzy, mon,” Patrick chided, his arms folded across his chest. Thomas grunted, but stopped pacing. He ran a callused hand through his hair and sighed. “Ye would think my wife would care enough aboot me tae birth my bairn the soonest, so I would no’ ha’ tae worry.” Patrick threw his head back and laughed. “She has been birthin’ but a mere five hours. ‘Tis early still.” Elizabeth wobbled over to her father’s side and smiled sweetly up to him as she raised her arms, indicating that she wanted to be held. Thomas grinned down to her, scooping her up to his side. “Ye canna stand tae be away from me, can ye, poppet?” Elizabeth beamed a huge smile his way, displaying her four pearly white teeth. She placed her hand on Thomas’s cheek and kissed him on the lips. “Da’.” Patrick chuckled as he reached out and twirled one of Elizabeth’s golden curls between his fingers. “I ha’ heard from Argyle that the wee one will no’ let ye from her sight.”
  • 168. Thomas rolled his eyes in feigned exasperation, knowing all the while that he treasured how much his wee Beth loved him. “’Tis true, my friend. When I go out tae the lists fer practice each day, I ha’ tae sneak from the keep, else Beth throws a mean temper does she see me leave.” Patrick grinned. “Yer lucky, sure enough.” “Sure enough.” An hour later, Elizabeth was charming Patrick, sitting in his lap and giving him kisses, while Thomas continued to pace. He was too nervous to do aught else. Soon thereafter Maris appeared at the top of the staircase, gliding down it with the regality of a queen. The men stopped what they were doing as all eyes became transfixed on the midwife’s impending arrival. Thomas waited in anticipation, as silent as the lot of them. Maris came to a halt before him and grinned. “Ye are the father t’ tae more healthy bairns!” “Tae?” The question was torn from five sets of lips, just as it had been a little over a year ago. Maris chuckled, nodding enthusiastically. “Both sons, these tae, though they are no’ identical.” Thomas clapped his hand to his forehead, feeling the need to sit down. “Can my wife no’ do anything the easy way?” he asked in bewilderment, but much delight. After steadying himself, Thomas picked up his tankard from the table nearest the hearth, and with an elation he could feel only after the birth of one of his own children, he raised it up and bellowed: “Tae sons! I name them this day—” He paused and cleared his throat, remembering his Christmas promise to his wife. “I think I had best wait and speak tae my harridan first.” At the sound of a great hall filled with laughter, he raised his tankard again and grinned. “Tae my sons!” “Tae yer sons!” Thomas set down his tankard, motioned for Patrick to follow behind him with Beth and Angus, and bolted for the staircase. ‘Twas time to see his wife and bairns. ***** “Patrick? Ye ha’ named my son after this woman?” The Hamilton chuckled at Thomas, then resumed cooing and crooning to his namesake. He gazed up at Lady Maya and smiled. “What will ye name the other one?” Maya shrugged as she smiled down to her fourth-born, the son who was already displaying the temper of all tempers. She grinned. “Well since I’ve named the one who has the temperament of a kitty cat after his equally jovial namesake, I can think of only one name befitting this demanding fourth child of mine.” The MacGregor grunted. “And what is that, love?” he asked. Maya grinned. “This son of mine is a ‘Thomas’ if ever I’ve seen one!” The Hamilton exploded into a fit of laughter. Even Thomas had to grin. He picked his fourth-born, but equally treasured son up from his mother’s arms and kissed him soundly on the cheek. Little Thomas, full from his mother’s milk, belched. Patrick chuckled. “He is his papa’s son already!” Maya watched as the Hamilton rained kisses atop little Patrick’s tiny head. She smiled, knowing what a great father he would make. “So Patrick,” she grinned, “Have you met anyone worthy of marrying lately?” Patrick winced. “Nay, milady. I ha’ been tae busy this past year dealin’ with Kirkpatricks.”
  • 169. “Did ye rid yerself of their rebel leader yet?” Thomas inquired. “Aye.” “Good. Then ye ha’ time tae be courtin’ a lassie.” Maya chuckled. “You better hurry up about it, Hamilton. My Angus is betrothed to your firstborn daughter. At the rate you’re progressing, he’ll be eighty years old before he gets his heir!” Thomas laughed. “’Tis true enough, wife.” Patrick shook his head. “The tae of ye carry on as if ye were my parents and I just a wee one and no’ a powerful laird.” Thomas clapped him on the back. “Somebody has tae, I’m thinkin’.” The rest of the MacGregor brood shuffled into the room, the lot of them having gone downstairs to eat after the birthing. Elizabeth made a beeline straight for her papa, Angus straight for his mother. Angus climbed up onto the bed and grinned at Maya. “Mum.” She kissed him hard on the cheek in return, a great smacking sound heard throughout the bedchamber. Thomas brought Beth to her other side for a kiss, the six of them sitting on the bed as they introduced their first and second born to their third and fourth born. Maya looked up to her husband and smiled, a tear glistening in her eye. Thomas smiled, knowingly. She was the happiest of ladies. He was the happiest of lairds. “I love you Thomas MacGregor.” “And I love ye, Maya mine.” Epilogue Gnarled old hands that had known a long, happy life opened up the book that had been purchased just this past Christmas. They shook with age as they leafed through the pages, then stopped as they reached the first chapter. The owner of the gnarled hands had been inexplicably drawn to this book from the moment he had first received it as a gift from his grandchildren a few months back. The old man was taking his time in reading it, hoping to learn all he could of the mysterious clan MacGregor that had ruled the Highlands for hundreds of years. He put on his spectacles as he sat at the chair behind the cherry oak desk in his private library. He began to read. The matriarch of the MacGregor clan, Lady Maya MacGregor, bore her husband Thomas MacGregor (later the first Earl of Clannock, see pp. 301) seven children, with two of her pregnancies producing twins. By the end of her childbearing years, Lady Maya bequeathed to her husband a total of four sons and two daughters. The MacGregor’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, whom he affectionately referred to as “Beth”, went on in her later years to marry an English duke and to become the third Duchess of Browning. Aside from Thomas MacGregor’s feared reputation and prowess in battle (see pp. 50-75), it was through powerful marriage alliances such as Elizabeth’s that the MacGregor clan thrived while so many other Highlander clans vanished into poverty and obscurity. A case in point is that of Angus MacGregor, the second Earl of Clannock, who married the eldest born daughter of the powerful laird Patrick Hamilton (the Earl of Kintane). Angus’s wife, Madeline
  • 170. Hamilton MacGregor, went on to bear him three sons and two daughters, all of whom married heiresses and titled lords… The old man scanned through the pages until he reached the next section that referred back to the MacGregor matriarch. Lady Maya MacGregor was reputed to be a woman of tender heart and great beauty. Her fiercely devoted husband Thomas commissioned two different artists to put her likeness to canvas. These portraits (one painted by the Italian master Giotto himself) hung over the hearth in the great hall of the castle for hundreds of years until they were severely charred during a kitchen fire that fanned out of control two centuries ago. The paintings were not even known to exist until the year 2001 when a team of Scottish scientists unearthed them. Unfortunately, both works were unsalvageable at the time of discovery, so anthropologists were not able to restore them to their original splendor until two years ago, during the technological boom of 2058. The restored paintings again hang above the hearth in Castle MacGregor where they were first placed so many hundreds of years ago (see pg. 402). The current Earl of Clannock, who has recently taken up residence in the refurbished MacGregor hall, was quoted in a British newspaper as saying: “My grandmother’s portraits…” The old man’s hands shook violently with anticipation as he leafed toward the back of the book to page 402. He would actually get to see what the Lady Maya had looked like. In his heart, he already knew. The old man had known a long, prosperous life with a warm, caring wife at his side. She had bore him three children and those children had gone on to gift him with ten grandchildren. He was a happy man. And yet for almost sixty years he had carried around a great sadness, a burden that he had asked God to relieve him of more times than he could count. In his arrogant and idiotic youth, he had hurt a woman. He had made her cry, made her run from him, and through that he had been the indirect cause of her demise in a tropical storm. Or so he had believed. The old man, gnarled of hand and heavy of heart, flipped to page 402. Tears of relief and happiness streamed down his wrinkle-creased face as he brushed his shaking fingers across the happy image of the woman he had once loved. It was her. She had made it. Somehow, beyond his understanding, beyond his fathoming, she had made it after the storm. She had lived a long, full life. She had known a long, happy marriage. She had produced seven children, all of consequence. She had made it. And somehow he knew that in her happiness she had grown to forgive him. Nick Johnson closed the book. He removed his spectacles and reclined into his chair with an unburdened heart. The storm had passed. And like Maya, he knew peace.