Authors: Laurin Wittig
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
THE DEVIL OF KILMARTIN
Book / published by arrangement with the author
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Electronic edition: June, 2003
This book is dedicated to the memory of my dad,
Joseph Wesley Watkins, III,
who taught me to love the music of language
to my husband, Dean,
the love of my life and my very own hero.
It would be impossible to list all the wonderful people in my life who’ve helped me hone my craft and kept me laughing while I did it. However, there are a few who deserve special mention. Thanks to the members of Washington Romance Writers for all the shared knowledge, wisdom, and friendship over the years and to the amazing women who allow me to critique their work while they critique mine: Catherine Anderson, Lisa Arlt, Elizabeth Holcombe Fedorko, Courtney Henke, Karen Lee Smith, and my partner in plotting, Pamela Palmer Poulsen. Thanks also go to the sisterhood of the GH99er e-mail loop, the best support group any writer could ask for.
Jennifer Jackson and Kelly Sinanis get my huge thanks for guiding me through the publication of this book.
I’d especially like to thank my kids and my husband for making it possible for me to follow my dream, and my mom and stepdad, Jane Watkins and Ralph Kelly, for being eager chauffeurs during our adventure through Scotland.
Southwestern Highlands, Scotland Spring 1307
nger, pain, and
grief fueled Elena Lamont’s growing despair as she searched the torchlit chamber for the body of her cousin Ian. He was her last hope. He should be here, somewhere amongst the half score of her kinsmen lying bloodied on the rush-strewn floor. She shuddered as she moved between the pain-racked men. ’Twas an all too familiar sight since their chief, her father, had disappeared.
She saw a hand raised slightly and rushed to Ian, sinking to her knees at his side. The rough wool of her oldest gown quickly soaked up a pool of his blood. His face was gray, his eyes glassy.
“I see you did not parry fast enough again,” she said, keeping her voice light as she carefully pulled a piece of bloody linen away from his chest. “The Devil will not deal so lightly with you next time.” She swallowed a gasp as she revealed the pink-tinged bone of his ribs.
“Do not worry over me, lass,” Ian said. “ ’Tis too much this time.”
“Shush, Ian. Save your breath. ’Tis for sure you’ll be needing it when Isobel finds you’ve been hurt yet again.” Blood oozed from the gash. “ ’Tis not so bad as the last time,” she said, not daring to look him in the face.
As gently as she could manage with trembling hands, she tore his blood-crusted tunic further to expose more of his chest. She prayed that this time she could hold herself away from the pain. It was a daily prayer for her, and it had yet to be answered.
“Lay very still.” She rubbed her hands together, warming them, calming herself, calling forth the healing gift she held within her.
She placed her hands gently around the wound.
Pain leapt from Ian, burned up her fingers, scrabbled around her arms, and settled its claws in her ribs. The first flash was a shock, but Elena knew she mustn’t let it stop her. Nothing must stop her from saving Ian’s life.
With great effort she ignored the mirrored pain and willed the healing heat out through her hands and into the man beside her. After a dozen breaths the pain began to ease. Elena relaxed slightly, rolling her shoulders as she once again gathered the heat. After another dozen breaths the wound began to close. She concentrated, determined to heal this man.
Without Ian, their missing chief’s arrogant, overbearing champion, Dougal of Dunmore, would surely take control of the dispirited clan and declare himself their leader. The result would only be more of what she struggled with this day. Blood and death, for Dougal cast destruction about him wherever he went, and all in the name of power.
Elena could not let that happen. Wise, caring Ian had always been her father’s choice to follow him.
Without Ian’s leadership all was lost for their clan.
Just as the blood flow ceased from Ian’s wound and Elena fought to mend the flesh, Dougal roughly pulled her away from her cousin.
“Why do you waste your skill on this one? He will not survive.” Elena glared at him, repulsed by the glint of glee in his eyes. “Save yourself for those who may rise to fight again.”
Elena looked away, trying to calm the surge of anger and fear she felt whenever this man was near. Before she could take even one breath, Dougal shoved her toward another injured warrior.
“I need them all on their feet by first light.”
Elena glanced back at her cousin. His breathing was even, though his skin still held the pallor of much blood loss. At least he would lose no more this night.
Candles sputtered and were replaced by silent clanswomen as Elena worked her way through the crowded room, healing each hurt, small and great. By the fifth man Elena could no longer focus on anything save stopping the pain assaulting her. By the tenth man she could barely stand, so great was her fatigue. By the twelfth man, and the last, Dougal had to cuff her repeatedly to keep her alert and focused on the task at hand.
When the last man was healed, Elena could not rise to her feet. If it weren’t for the bloody gore that covered the rush-strewn floor she would have curled up right where she sat and slept for days.
But Dougal hauled her to her feet once more, turning her to face him. She had to look down at him, into mud-brown eyes that held no gentleness, only a lust for power, and some other even more ominous fire. She had never been able to name the fire she saw there, but she knew it did not bode well for those around him. It certainly had not so far.
“Get you to your chamber. Wash the blood from your hands and face and don the new gown that awaits you there.” He released her arm abruptly. She staggered at the sudden loss of support. When she was sure she could walk without falling, she moved slowly toward the door, her exhausted mind slowly mulling over his words.
She made her way to her small, cell-like chamber. Protected, Dougal always said of it, though she knew only too well that wasn’t why it had been given to her. She opened the door and stopped.
A tray of steaming stew, oatcakes, and a large mug of ale awaited her by a crackling fire. A gown was spread over her narrow bed, its color the same muddy brown as Dougal’s eyes. She shuddered. She’d never wear that color, even if her own clothes were falling in rags from her body.
Despite her fatigue, she pushed the door wide open, then moved to the food, greedily gulping the ale and lifting the bowl to quickly consume the savory contents. When she had finished, she looked about again.
Why would Dougal have a new gown made for her?
She left the warmth of the fire and sat on the bed, not touching the clothing. Somehow she knew to accept the gift would seal her to a new fate, though she couldn’t grasp how another fate could be worse than the one she endured now.
She would not have thought she could have soft feelings for her father, but in the face of Dougal, she found she wished him whole and back in this castle where he could rein in his champion. Her father had never treated her gently, but she knew he had protected her from many things, and many people. If he did not return soon or if Ian did not gain back his once robust health, Elena knew she would have to gather her courage and do something herself.
But what? As long as Ian lived, then Dougal would have no rightful claim. By custom
could claim the chief’s position, but she had no wish to do so. Her father had long trained Ian to take his place. If her father’s fate was not known soon, very soon, she or Ian would be forced to act. One thing was certain. Dougal would not bide his time long. He would declare the chief dead any day now, and her hand, or Ian’s, would be forced.
She rose to return to Ian. The one thing she could do well was watch over him until he was able to take his place at the head of the clan.
As if to mock her decision, a chill draft entered her chamber, just ahead of Dougal.
“You are not welcome here,” she said.
He shut the door behind him, and Elena forced herself not to react.
“You cannot keep me out much longer.”
“When my father is found—”
“He has been.”
Elena’s breath caught in her throat. “Where is he? Is he well?”
Dougal moved toward her. “My gillies have found his body not far from here.”
He waited, letting his words slice through the momentary hope that had blossomed within her. Elena groped for the bed, lowering herself to sit upon it once more. Shock and dread stole her breath.
“He is dead.” She stared into the fire, searching for some glimmer of sorrow within herself for her sire.
“Aye, and I am chief here now.”
Elena glanced at the man’s face. There was no grief in his eyes, no remorse, not even a hint of sadness there. Nothing marked any sentiment over the passing of a man who had taken Dougal in and given him a home when he was but a wandering sword.
Nothing save greed—and ambition.
In time she would mourn the loss of a father, even one who never showed her any softness, but right now she could think only of the future.
“How did he die?” she whispered.
“A terrible accident. It seems his horse threw him. He fell and broke his neck.” Dougal moved toward her. “
am chief now.”
“Nay! Ian is chief.” Fear wrapped about her heart, squeezing tight. “He has ever been my father’s chosen one.”
“Ian is in no condition to lead the clan. He has been so ill of late he can no longer wield a sword well enough to keep himself whole. He is no leader. I am chief. I now speak for the clan.”
Elena rose, moving to the warmth of the fire, needing to put more distance between herself and this man. She took a deep breath, knowing what she must do, but wishing with all her might that someone else would come and do it for her. She turned to face him.
“I am the chief’s daughter.” She struggled to keep her voice firm. “By right and tradition I shall be chief if Ian cannot.”
Dougal moved closer, a gleam in his eyes. “Aye.” He reached forward and grabbed her thick flame-colored braid, pulling her closer to him with it. “You have that authority until such time as you marry. Then your husband will be the rightful chief.”
“I will never marry. I will be chief until Ian is well enough to lead. ’Tis what the clan will want.”
“I do not think it will come to that, my lassie.”
She shuddered. The endearment felt like a threat.
Dougal wound the braid about his hand, forcing her to move closer to him until she was trapped, the braid held tautly, pulling her head toward him. With effort, she kept the merest hair’s breadth of distance between their bodies.