tagRomanceHeart of the Highlands Ch. 02

Heart of the Highlands Ch. 02

bysimply_cyn©

The men grabbed Colin roughly by the arms and drug him to his feet. Pain shot through his back and legs and he subdued a cry of rage and agony, refusing to give the English brutes the privilege of knowing his state of torture. They drug him across the rough floor, jagged edges of stone biting at him, tossing him to the floor of his darkened cell. He grunted as his knees hit the hard, bloodstained, and mucky floor. He could feel them grabbing his right arm, stretching it out and putting his hand palm down upon the bloodstained block. Colin struggled, watching as the flickering light from the doorway caught the rock that was lifted high above his head. He tried to pull back, but two men held him and the stone came down with a vengeance...

Colin bolted upright in a state of absolute terror. He was covered in a cold sweat. The hunting dog near his bed jumped as Colin suddenly sat up and gave a surprised bark. Once he gained his bearings, he breathed a sigh of relief before melting back against his bed. He was home, safe in his own bed.

There was a slight ruckus outside Colin's room as a couple more hunting dogs were let in and his eldest sister, who was still at home, followed after them. "Colin, are you alright? I heard ..." She stopped mid sentence, looking at the curtained bed. Her brother had gotten up obviously; the curtains were pulled aside. She jumped with a shriek when he stepped out of the shadows after lighting a lamp with the leftover embers of the fire. It was just past midnight.

"Those dogs of yours are going to wake the whole house, Lydia," she heard his soft and somewhat far way reply. "But yes ... I'm fine."

"A bad dream again, brother?" Colin's eyes met his sister's and then he just looked away. Lydia sighed and approached her brother and before he could pull away, she grasped his shoulder.

He reached up to shadow her hand with his own. There was hardly any strength in his grasp. The hand was cruelly mangled. He felt her kiss his hand softly and he closed his eyes. Lydia and he had always been close. It had torn his sister apart when he had been taken captive by the English. They all h ad thought he was dead. It had affected Lydia the most.

Again he squeezes her hand tenderly. "I'm alright Lydia."

He smiled a bit as Lydia leaned over to kiss his cheek. By all that was holy, it would be hard to watch Lydia married off. He had always relied on his sister's presence for comfort and company.

Colin closed his eyes, squeezing her hand again. "Why don't you go back to bed, Lydia?" he murmured softly. "I'll be alright."

Lydia shook her head and then hugged her brother tightly. "I'll sit on your bed with you until you're asleep again. THEN I'll go back to bed."

Colin looked at her out the corner of his eyes. "I don't need coddling, woman."

She just grinned and kissed his cheek again. "Too bad ... that's what big sisters are for."

Once she thought she had Colin settled in and asleep again, Lydia got up to leave but suddenly Colin's hand grasped her wrist and she drew up short to look at him. He had feigned sleep well; either that or he had been asleep but had roused at her slightest movement. Probably something he'd learned or been trained into during his time in the Tower.

She sat again, patting his hand comfortingly. "I'm here, Colin." Curling up next to him upon the bed, she gazed into his eyes with a smile. "I won't go anywhere. You just sleep."

Lydia had been like a mother figure to Colin as they had grown up. There was a lot more than just a deep, unbreakable friendship between them. She reached for him to gently caress the swollen bruise around his eyes from the fight a few days ago. He'd sure earned his war wounds from that day.

"Lydia? Do you know anything of the McKay family?" Her fingers stilled as she heard her brother's question and she drew back a bit, her eyebrows furrowing gently.

"Other than the name?" she softly asked. "Not too much, really. Father mentioned something today about hearing the daughter ... Juliana or something like that has been betrothed to Robbie Kincaid." She tilted her head a bit as she looked at her beloved brother. "Why the sudden curiosity?"

Colin sat straight upright at the news he hadn't heard. "Betrothed?! Why?!" Then he caught himself as his words gave too much away. "I mean ... when?"

Lydia blinked a bit at her brother's reaction. He never seemed too interested in the politics of their world. "Just today ... I think. I'm not really sure, to be honest." She eyed her brother warily as he got up out of bed to pace his room. It was never a good sign when Colin retreated to silence. "Brother ..."

Colin waved her off irritatingly, pacing back and forth in front of the fire. After it became apparent that he'd prefer to be alone, she rose and called to the dogs that had piled near the foot of the bed. Opening the door, she let them out quietly and closed the door behind her.

Colin let her go. He was grateful his sister could read him well enough that he didn't have to say a word in order for to understand what he needed.

After a bit more pacing, he collapsed into a big chair set in front of the fire, looking into the hypnotizing flames. His left hand floated down to caress the top of his beloved lyre. Colin had loved to play the delicate instrument, priding himself in his ability. Now it was just a constant reminder of the damage the English had inflicted on him; the broken, crooked fingers of the hand they'd destroyed could no longer pluck the melodic notes from the strings.

He sighed heavily; Juliana McKay had, in fact, been betrothed to the beast Colin had fought a few days ago at the fairs. Reaching up to caress his bruised jaw, his eyes darkened at the thought of the Kincaid heir so much as touching the beautiful Juliana.

With a sigh he got up. It was obvious there would be no more sleep for him tonight. He needed fresh air. Pulling on a tunic over his nightshirt and, out of habit, reaching for his gauntlets, he left his room.

Soon enough he was mounted one of his favorite steeds, guiding the animal with gentle words to take him for a ride along the coast. The sun was several hours away and he had no desire to be cooped up inside with thoughts of Juliana and Robbie in his head.

***********************************************

Juliana sat wide awake upon the pillowed seat of her open window, the sheer coverings billowing out into the open air and then blowing gently back in as the breeze from the ocean out of her view, but not too far away, blew in across the rolling hills of her beloved Highlands. Her legs were drawn up tight against her beneath the dressing gown that shimmered in dancing candlelight that sat nearby. It was late ... past midnight she would guess, but she couldn't sleep. She hadn't been able to sleep in a couple of days ... ever since her encounter with the young man from the Mackenzie clan.

Instead of sweet sleep, whenever she closed her eyes, she kept reliving the brief moments that she had been able to look into his eyes. What she wouldn't give to be able to look into them once more. Laying her cheek to the tops of her knees, she closed her eyes tightly as a lone tear squeezed through and slipped down her cheek.

Her father had made it official just this day ... she was, indeed, to marry the eldest heir of the Kincaid clan in exchange for security of their lands and their family fortune. Juliana was sick at the thought but knew that these things were done all the time ... it had merely been a matter of time.

She heard a slight knock at her door before the door was pushed gently open. She didn't have to look up to know who it was ... she could smell the sweet, faint scent of her mother without having to even lift her head. Her moss-green eyes opened to gaze back over the rolling hills bathed in moonlight, not even lifting her head as she heard her mother approach. Only the tremble of her chin reacted when she felt her mother's fingers gently toy with her flame-hued hair.

"It's late Juliana but yet a candle still burns in your window," she heard her say softly, even though she knew her mother did not expect an answer. "I know you are distraught but you know the customs of the clan and the duty that sometimes falls on a woman within."

Juliana merely tightened her arms around her bent legs as her soft voice lifted, almost without any kind of emotion, "I know my duties, Mother." Juliana felt her mother sink down onto the pillows before her and only then did she turn her head so that her chin now rest on the tops of her knees, unshed tears shining in the depths of her green gaze.

"Robbie is not without his faults," her mother began, "but neither is he the devil incarnate. He is handsome and well-to-do and ..."

Juliana interrupted softly as a tear rolled down her cheek, "And I don't like him, much less love him."

Juliana's mother sighed heavily and reached to take one of her daughter's slender hands in her own. "Love can be learned ... over time," she offered gently and then smiled a sad sort of smile at her daughter, "Look at your father and me."

Juliana gazed at her mother for a long moment, knowing exactly what a loveless marriage did ... produced children and that was about it. That was the last kind of relationship she wanted not to mention the face that under no circumstance did she want a relationship at ALL with Robbie Kincaid but she simply nodded wordlessly and turned her cheek back to her bent knees.

Her mother lay her hand on her daughter's soft tresses and stroked them gently before she added with a soft voice, "Tis best to put any other out of your head and heart, dear Juliana ... this is the path that you are meant to trod."

Juliana's head whipped up to look at her mother startled, as if she didn't know what she meant until their eyes met and she knew that her mother just instinctively knew. Euphoria McKay smiled wistfully and drew her fingers down through her daughter's hair and added, "Tis a pipe dream you are thinking about, whatever his name may be, lass. Just remember that."

Juliana's green eyes brimmed with fresh tears all over again and her mother nodded gently as her fingers caressed her daughter's. "Tis written all over your face, my bairn. I have always been able to see through the expressions on your face straight to your heart."

Juliana sighed deeply as her fingers tightened on her mother's and choked back a soft sob as she rubbed her eyes on the tops of her knees. "Do ye wish to speak of it, lass? Sometimes it helps to get these things off your heart and into words."

Juliana shook her head even as the tears rolled silently down her cheeks. What was there to say? She had no say in this world of hers. Her father's will was law and she felt the burden heavily on her shoulders to do what she could to keep the name McKay alive in their beloved lands. But to wed Robbie Kincaid in itself was a curse.

To make matters worse, she feared that she had already lost her heart in the eyes and valiant nature of her knight that had appeared without warning into her life ... the man known as Colin Mackenzie. And now ... now she would never have a chance to get to know him as she longed to do. She would never get the opportunity to find out what secrets lay in the depths of his ocean-blue eyes ... the color of the waters of her beloved homeland. "Nay ... I can not speak it," she managed to whisper on a sob. "Tis only a dream."

Juliana fell into silence and try as she might, her mother could pull no more from her beloved bairn but she knew her well enough to know that her heart was bleeding inside. If she only knew the source of her daughter's affections ... not that it would help. The contract had been made between the Kincaid clan and the McKays.

Rubbing her eyes with her hand, she rose to leave her daughter with her thoughts, her own sadness washing over her that her daughter would not have the love she obviously carried within her heart. Casting one last look towards her daughter, she quietly left her chambers, closing the door behind her. As Juliana heard the door click shut, an audible sob managed to escape her throat as she finally gave voice to the name that had been weighing heavily on her heart - "Colin ..."

Juliana knew there would be no sleep for her this night and with the way things were going, she may n'er sleep again. Pulling herself from her curled up position at the window, she knew the one thing that would at least put her misery behind her temporarily. She also knew, if caught, her father would have her head. He despised it when she donned the pants of a man and took out over the hills on horseback but it was the only thing that could drive the memory of Colin Mackenzie from her mind.

Moving quickly but quietly, she donned a pair of trousers and boots and a button down tunic but as it was midnight and no one would be out to notice, she left her flame red hair loose for this night's ride before extinguishing the candle in her room and stealthily crept out of the manor towards the stables and her beloved mount.

**********************************************

Colin rode for an hour or more and had worked his mount into a lather. Dropping down to the ground, he finally came to a standstill to let the animal cool off. He had raised the gelding from a colt and despite the fact he had no bridle or saddle on him, he followed Colin like a well-trained dog.

He chuckled when he felt the horse's muzzle at the back of his neck. "Think you can breathe any harder, Maverick?" Reaching back to rub the horse's muzzle, he could hear the horse kind of murmur, nudging him again as they slowly walked down the beach together.

Juliana had ridden her white mare down towards the coast, riding along the edge of the water for a while until she knew she needed to let her horse take a rest. Sliding off the mare's bare back, she took hold of the reins and simply led her for a while. The ride had worked ... she had put Colin and her troubles to the back of her mind but now that she was back on her feet, the whole thing had come rushing back to her and she felt, once more, overwhelmed.

Turning towards the waves that gently rolled onto the smooth sands, she gave the mare its head and it wandered to the long sea grass that grew just behind where Juliana stood. She watched the waves roll in and tried to envision a life with Robbie but all she succeeded in doing was inserting the handsome face of Colin Mackenzie there instead.

Maverick's head whipped up and he snorted, prancing a bit. Colin looked out where the creature had caught a scent, seeing nothing. It wasn't a nervous prance; it was one much like he did around others of his kind. Reaching up to rub Maverick's neck to soothe him for a moment, Colin grasped the horse's mane and mounted up again. Clucking his tongue, he felt Maverick take off at a canter around the bend of the beach.

There was the source of Maverick's reactions ... a rider stood at the waterline and a beautiful white mare was grazing nearby. Colin slowed Maverick up a bit, peering toward the scene to see if there was any threat.

The head of Juliana's mare whipped up from her grazing and then her whole body trembled as a loud whinny exploded from her nostrils and mouth. Juliana turned quickly towards the mare first and then in the direction in which the mare was looking. Furrowing her brows, she couldn't make out who the rider was or whether he was friend or foe. But she knew that being alone in the middle of the night suddenly seemed like a very foolish thought.

As she quickly made her way towards the mare, the breeze blew up once again, catching her long hair and whirling it around her face and shoulders, almost blinding her. Biting back a curse, Juliana fumbled for the mare's reins as she danced and fidgeted. Pushing back her hair as best as she could, she harshly whispered towards the horse in annoyance, "For mercies sake, it's just a boy! Don't let him see you fret so ... it's unbecoming a lady" And then with a wry grin, she patted the mare's neck before turning her head towards the rider as he began to approach, her smile fading into a nervous demeanor.

Maverick slowed at his rider's demand, whickering at the other horse in greeting. Colin slid off Maverick's back again, peering into the early morning light to see the girl. He smiled a bit - she must've needed air about like he did. "Fear not, Lady. I am merely passing by. What brings you out in such early hours?"

Juliana startled some at the sound of the voice and she stepped away from her mare momentarily to get a better look, an incredulous expression passing over her beautiful face. "Colin?" The name had slipped from her lips before she knew she had said them.

Colin paused as he heard his name and furrowed his brows, looking more closely at the girl. He didn't dare get his hopes up ... the fates had never been good to him. "Aye ... 'tis I. Who, may I ask, are you?"

Juliana frowned a bit, thinking that he didn't even remember her and turned again towards her mare to hide the tears swimming in her eyes from the rejection. Here she had been thinking non-stop about him and he hadn't even remembered who she was, much less her name. "Tis not important," she murmured softly and threw herself back upon her mare's back, gathering up the reins. "I really must be getting back."

He approached the girl and her horse, grasping the reins to hold her semi-trapped. "Nay, lady." He smiled up at her. It was her ... the girl that had haunted his mind since the day he'd fought for her purity. "At least grant a young wretch your name ... at least once more."

Juliana couldn't help but tremble slightly as she gazed down at his handsome face. In that moment she wanted to flee without a look back but in the same instant, she wanted to slip down into his arms and never let go. "Ju ... Juliana ... Juliana McKay," she whispered softly.

Colin smiled. The fates HAD been good to him tonight. The smile told her he had known her name all along ... he had just wanted to hear it again. "And what, pray tell, brings you here, dear Juliana?"

She couldn't help but just drink him in as if this would be the last time that she saw him and it saddened her heart to know that it very well could be. Moss-green eyes, the color of the surrounding green that was beginning to show in the morning light that was approaching over the horizon, gazed down at him tenderly ... sadly. If only. The rest remained unspoken ... unthought. She couldn't allow herself the luxury of letting her mind wander. There were hard times ahead.

"I ... I couldn't sleep," she stammered.

"Nor could I. A storm is moving in. I can smell it on the wind." Colin offered his left hand up to help her down. "Care to walk with me awhile?"

He had no idea what he was doing. She was a betrothed woman and his mind screamed at him to let her be. But he had to talk with her. They hadn't gotten a chance to the day at the festival.

Juliana's gaze moved to his outstretched hand and she could feel the battle waging within her. She shouldn't be here, especially alone with him. She was betrothed, promised to another even when her heart pounded restlessly, wildly whenever she thought of the man that now stood before her. She should refuse and ride home but instead she felt her hand slip into his as she slid effortlessly from the mare's back and down beside him. She hadn't been alone with another man that wasn't a family member EVER. This couldn't be good ... it couldn't be good at all. But then why did it feel so right?

Colin smiled as she joined him and he stepped away a bit to give her space as he led her on a walk. He had no idea what to do or say. Shyly he looked away, tucking his hands into the pockets on his trousers

Juliana followed beside him, her own hands fidgeting momentarily before folding them gently in front of her waist and then let them hang down in a natural resting position. She felt all choked up for a moment as she went back over every thing she had ever said to him in her mind but it all just seemed a fog. But she was grateful for the time with him and just simply walked beside him for a long while before turning her head slightly to gaze at him out of the corner of her eye.

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