Seduction of a Highland Lass eBook: Page2

Maya Banks (2011)

Page 2

 

  The huff of a horse whirled Keeley around, and she dropped the armful of wood with a clatter. The horse clopped into view and came to a stop beside Keeley. Sweat gleamed from the horse’s neck and there was a wildness in its eyes that suggested it had suffered a fright.

  But Keeley’s eyes were riveted to the warrior slumped over in the saddle and to the blood that dripped steadily onto the ground.

  Before she could react, the man fell off the horse with a heavy thump. Keeley winced. Jesu, but that had to hurt.

  The horse danced to the side, leaving the sprawled warrior at Keeley’s feet. Keeley dropped down, pulling at his tunic as she sought the source of all the blood. There was a huge rend in the material at his side and when she pushed aside the tatters, she gasped.

  There was a cut that ran from his hip to just underneath his arm. The flesh was flayed open and the wound was at least an inch deep. Thankfully it wasn’t deeper, for surely it would have been a mortal blow.

  It would certainly need needle and thread and a lot of praying that he didn’t succumb to a fever.

  She ran her hands anxiously over his taught abdomen. He was a strong warrior, lean and well muscled. There were other scars, one on his belly and one on his shoulder. They were older and didn’t look to have been as severe as his current injury.

  How was she to get him into her cottage? She glanced back at her doorway with her bottom lip stuck solidly between her teeth. He was enormous and no match for a lass her size. It would require cunning to solve this dilemma.

  She rose and hurried into her cottage. She stripped the linens from her bed and wadded them into her hand. She ran back outside letting the material unfurl in the wind.

  It took her a moment to position the sheet just so, and she had to place rocks on the end to keep it from billowing up in the wind. When she was done, she went around to the other side of the warrior and pushed at him to roll him onto the sheet.

  It was like pushing a boulder.

  She grit her teeth and put more muscle into the effort. He bobbed a bit but remained in his position.

  “Wake up and help me!” she demanded in frustration. “I can’t leave you out here in the cold. ’Tis likely to snow today and you’re still bleeding. Have you no care for your life?”

  She poked him for emphasis and when he didn’t stir, she smacked his cheek with the flat of her palm.

  He stirred and frowned. A growl escaped his lips that nearly sent her back into the safety of her cottage.

  Then she scowled and bent closer so he could hear. “You’re a stubborn one, aye, but you’ll find I’m even more so. You won’t be winning this battle, warrior. ’Tis better if you surrender now and help me in my endeavor. ”

  “Leave off,” he snarled, his eyes never opening. “I’ll not aid you in taking me to hell. ”

  “ ’Tis hell you’re going to if you don’t stop being difficult. Now move!”

  To her surprise he grumbled but rolled as she pushed him.

  “I always knew there would be women in hell,” he muttered. “ ’Tis only appropriate that they should be there causing as much difficulty as they do on earth. ”

  “I’m fair tempted to leave you out here to rot in the cold,” Keeley snapped. “You’re an ungrateful wretch, and your opinions of women are as deplorable as your manners. ’Tis no wonder you find women so repulsive. I’ve no doubt you’ve never been able to get close enough to one to change your opinion. ”

  To her astonishment, the warrior laughed and then promptly groaned when the action caused him pain. Some of Keeley’s irritation fell away as she saw his face grow ashen and sweat bead his forehead. He was truly in agony and here she sat debating with him.

  She shook her head and then gathered the ends of the sheet in her hands and hauled them over her shoulder.

  “Give me strength, God,” she prayed. “I’ve no chance of dragging him into my cottage without your aid. ”

  She pursed her lips, ground her teeth together, and then pulled with all her might. Only to be jerked backward. She nearly toppled to the ground. Her warrior hadn’t budged an inch.

  “Well, God never promised you extraordinary strength,” she muttered. “Perhaps he grants only reasonable requests. ”

  She stared at the problem before her and then glanced at the warrior’s horse who stood in the distance munching on grass.

  With a disgruntled sigh she marched toward the horse and gripped the reins. At first he refused to budge, but she planted her feet and coaxed, pulled and begged the monstrous animal to do her bidding.

  “Have you no loyalty?” she accused. “Your master is lying on the ground, gravely wounded, and all you can think of is your belly?”

  The horse didn’t look impressed with her speech, but finally he clopped toward the fallen warrior. He leaned his snout down to nuzzle against his master’s neck, but Keeley pulled him away.

  If she could just secure the ends of the sheet to the horse’s saddle, then he could pull him into the cottage. Not that she wanted a dirty, foul-smelling animal in her home, but at the moment she didn’t see an alternative.

  It took her several long minutes before she was satisfied she had a workable plan. After the sheet was secure and she was reasonably sure the warrior wouldn’t roll off the material, she urged the horse in the direction of the cottage.

  To her delight it worked! The horse dragged the warrior along the ground. It would take a week to wash the dirt from her bedding, but at least the man was being moved.

  The horse clopped into her cottage. There was barely room to maneuver around the animal and the warrior. They filled the tiny interior of her home.

  She hastily untied the ends of the sheet and then set about getting the horse to go back the way he’d come. The stubborn horse evidently decided he liked the warmer interior of her cottage. It took half an hour to budge the stubborn beast.

  When she finally had him outside where he belonged, she slammed her door and leaned heavily against it. She needed to remember next time that good deeds often went unrewarded.

  She was fair exhausted from her efforts, but her warrior needed tending if he was to live.

  Her warrior? She snorted. Her pain in the arse, more likely. No need in entertaining stupid, fanciful thoughts. If he died, she’d likely be blamed.

  Upon closer inspection, he obviously wasn’t a McDonald. She frowned. Was he an enemy to the McDonalds? Not that she owed them her loyalty, but she was a McDonald and as such their enemies were her own. Was she even now saving the life of a man who was a threat to her?

  “There you go again, Keeley,” she mumbled. Her flights of fancy often veered dramatically to the absurd. The tales she spun in her head would make a bard look boring.

  His colors were unfamiliar to her, but then she had never been farther than McDonald land in her life.

  She had no hope of getting him to her bed so she did the next best thing. She brought her bed to him.

  She arranged the blankets and pillows around him so that he would be comfortable, and then she added wood to her dying fire. Already the room had gone chilly.

  Next, she collected her supplies and gave thanks that she’d traveled into the neighboring village a few days past to replenish her meager stock. Most of what she needed, she gathered herself. And thank the good Lord that she had superior healing skills, because it was all that had sustained her for the last years.

  Though the McDonalds were quick enough to toss her out of the clan, they had no compunction about seeking her out when one of them needed healing. It wasn’t uncommon for her to stitch a McDonald warrior after a training mishap or a wee one’s head after taking a tumble down the stairs.

  McDonald keep had its own healer, but she was aging and her hand was no longer steady at stitching. ’Twas said she did more damage than good when putting her needle to flesh.

  If Keeley were more mean spirited, she’d turn them away just as they’d turned her aw
ay, but the occasional coin they provided for her services kept food on her table when hunting was lean and it enabled her to purchase supplies that she couldn’t gather herself.

  She mixed herbs and mashed the leaves, adding just enough water to make a paste. When she was satisfied with the consistency, she laid it aside and set about preparing bandages from an older linen sheet she kept for just such emergencies.

  When everything was in order, she went back to her warrior and knelt by his side. He hadn’t regained consciousness since being dragged into her cottage. For that she was grateful. The last thing she needed was a man twice her size to become combative.

  She dipped a cloth into a bowl of water and gently began to cleanse the wound. Fresh blood seeped from the wound as she brushed aside the crusted, dried parts. She was meticulous in her task, not wanting to leave even a speck of dirt into the wound when she closed it.

  It was a jagged wound and it would leave a great scar, but it wasn’t anything he should die of if he didn’t take a fever.

  After she was satisfied that it was clean, she pressed the flesh back together and took up her needle. She held her breath as she slid the needle in the first time, but the warrior slept on and she quickly set her stitches, making sure they were tight and close together.

  She worked down, hovering over him until her back ached and her eyes crossed from the strain. She estimated the wound to be at least eight inches in length. Perhaps ten. At any rate, it would pain him to move in the days to come.

  When she set the last stitch, she sat back and sighed her relief. The hard part was over. Now she needed to bandage him and bind it in place.

  By the time she was done wrestling with the warrior, she was exhausted. Wiping the hair from her eyes, she went to wash and to stretch her aching limbs. The inside had grown overwarm and she welcomed the brisk cool air of the outside. She walked down to the bubbling stream not far from her cottage and she knelt by the edge to scoop the water up in her hands.

  She filled a bowl full of fresh water and then headed back to the cottage. Then she washed the wound down once more before applying the thick poultice to the stitched flesh. She folded over several strips of material to fashion a thick bandage and then holding it to his side, she awkwardly wound the much longer strips around his waist to hold the bandage in place.

  If only she could sit him up, it would make the task much easier. Deciding there was no reason she couldn’t lift him to a sitting position, she tugged at his head and then put her entire body behind him to shove upward.

  He sagged forward and more blood seeped between the stitches. Working quickly, she wound the strips tightly around his midsection until she was satisfied that everything would stay as she’d positioned it.

  Then she eased him gently back to the floor until his head rested on one of the small pillows. She smoothed the hair from his brow and fingered the braid that hung from his temple.

  Drawn by the beauty of his face, she ran her finger over his cheekbone and to his jaw. He truly was a beautiful man. Perfectly formed and fashioned. A strong warrior honed by the fires of battle.

  She wondered about the color of his eyes. Blue, she speculated. With that dark hair, blue would be mesmerizing, but it was just as likely they were brown.

  As if deciding to answer her unspoken question, his eyelids flipped open. His stare was unfocused, but she was mesmerized by the pale green orbs surrounded by dark lashes that only added to his beauty.

  Beauty. Clearly she needed to come up with a better term. He would be mortally offended by a woman calling him beautiful. Handsome. Aye. But handsome didn’t begin to aptly describe the warrior.

  “Angel,” he croaked out. “I’ve gone to heaven, aye. ’Tis the only explanation for beauty such as this. ”

  She felt a prick of pleasure until she remembered that just earlier he was likening her to hell. With a sigh she smoothed her hand over the warrior’s unshaven chin. The bristle abraded her palm and she briefly wondered what it would feel like on other parts of her body.

  Then she promptly blushed and pushed the sinful thoughts from her mind.

  “Nay, warrior. ’Tis not heaven you’ve found. You’re still of this world, although you might be feeling as though you’ve been gripped by the fires of hell. ”

  “ ’Tis not possible for an angel such as you to reside in the bowels of hell,” he said in a slurred voice.

  She smiled and soothed her palm over his cheek again. He turned and nuzzled into her hand, his eyes closing as an expression of pleasure settled on his features.

  “Sleep now warrior,” she whispered. “ ’Tis God’s truth you have a long recovery ahead of you. ”

  “You mustn’t leave, lass,” he murmured.

  “Nay, warrior. I won’t leave you. ”

  CHAPTER 3

  Alaric became aware of burning pain in his side that grew stronger with each second he was conscious. It became so much that he stirred and shifted in an attempt to alleviate the unbearable tension.

  “Be still, warrior, lest you rip your stitches. ”

  The honeyed voice was accompanied by gentle hands that scalded his already overwarm skin. The heat was nigh unbearable and yet he stilled, not wanting his angel to stop touching him. ’Twas the only semblance of pleasure he had.