The fact that either of her parents thought that an acceptable alternative was more than she could bear.

"You believe the clan leader would declare war?"


"What does she know?" Sybil scoffed. "She knows nothing of the world."

"I have heard the tales of these fierce people, Father."

"Tales told to frighten foolish children," Sybil said.

"So my daughter is foolish as well?" Sir Reuben asked, proving he had not forgotten his wife's earlier insult.

Sybil's hands fisted at her sides as if she realized she'd made an error in speaking so plainly now that they both knew the conversation had been overheard. Her father's pride might accept such intransigence from his wife in private, but he would not tolerate others—even a lowly daughter—seeing him in a light that could make him appear weak.

Emily was determined to use that to her advantage. "Father, you are one of the wisest of the king's barons. Everyone knows that."

"Too wise to risk war with a barbaric people simply to placate an overmanaging wife?"

Emily knew better than to answer, so she remained silent while Sybil gasped in outrage.

"Who would you have me send in her place?"

"Jolenta?" she asked.

"No!" Sybil cried and then she grasped her husband's sleeve. "Consider, my dearest lord, the betrothed of Baron de Coucy's heir died of a fever not a month past. The baron will be looking for a new bride to contract very soon. His mother has already made it clear she finds Jolenta pleasing."

The younger girl had spent the last two years at Court, an honor Emily had never been extended.

"I thought you said she was too young to wed."

"A barbaric Scotsman, but not the son of a powerful baron."

"Then who would you have me send in accord with the king's order?"


"No, please, Father…"

"I do not fancy a war over the disposal of one of my daughters."

Emily winced at her father's comment. Silence had fallen between her parents and she feared its outcome if she said nothing. Yet terror at her own thoughts and what they would mean for the sister she would leave behind as well as for herself filled her.

She took a deep breath and then forced herself to say, "Send me."

"You? You think, my lord, that the Scotsman will not go to war over you sending such an undisciplined girl? She's sure to offend him her first week as his wife."

"You said it yourself, they are barbarians. He would hardly appreciate a true English lady."

Old pain seared Emily's heart. Her father had no higher opinion of her than her stepmother. She had known that particular truth since her own mother's death, when he had berated a small girl crying over her mother's grave with the knowledge that she was not the son he had craved. If she had been, her mother would not have died trying to give birth to another.

Emily knew the cruel words for the lie they were… now. But until she had seen Sybil grow large with child twice more after giving her father the heir he sought, she had believed them. And felt unworthy because of them.

But she no longer believed that to be born female made her unworthy. Six years of correspondence with a powerful abbess had healed her of that affliction. She reminded herself of that fact as she raised her gaze to meet her father's.

It was as if he had been waiting for her to do so. "Think you that you will fare better than Abigail in the wilds of Scotland?"


"I think perhaps you are right." He turned to his wife. "It is decided. I will send Emily in answer to my overlord's demand."

"And Abigail?" Emily asked.

"She will remain here, under my protection."

The large black wolf sniffed the air, his powerful body coiled to spring into instant motion if needed.

Away from his own territory, even in the presence of his companions, the situation was fraught with danger. He had not brought an attack force and the clan he had come to spy on had a full contingent of wolf warriors. Some of them were even as mighty as his own.

That meant treading carefully.

He made his way silently through the forest, knowing his two companions followed, though he could not hear them. The presence of all three went undetected by man or beast and that was as it should be.

His father had started teaching him to mask his scent from the night of his first change, and he had perfected the art. Other werewolves and even wild animals could come close enough to touch him in the dark and never know he was there. He bad chosen two warriors just as skilled to accompany him.

Though he stopped often to sniff the wind, it was not his ultrasensitive nose that caught the first signal that his brother Ulf had been right. Rather, his ears picked up a sound no human could have heard at such a distance. From the clan's holding beyond the trees and across the expanse of heather-filled grass, he heard the unmistakable sound of the lass's laugh.

The femwolf, Susannah, was here.

Her soft human voice spoke, though even his superior hearing was not up to deciphering the words. She did not sound as if she were in distress, but that did not alter the facts or how he must respond to them.

Clan law… ancient clan law, known by most Celts and every Chrechte warrior who had joined them two centuries before… had been broken. A Balmoral woman had been taken to mate without the consent of the clan chief.

Lachlan, laird of the Balmoral and pack leader to the Chrechte contingent among them, would not tolerate the insult.

Ulf had been right about what had happened to the femwolf who had disappeared during the last full moon hunt. He had also been right when he said the Sinclairs must be made to pay. No Highland chief would tolerate such insolence leveled against his clan and himself as a person. It implied the Sinclairs thought he was too weak to enforce clan law, that his warriors did not protect their women.

England would be his ally before he would allow such a view of his clan to stand unchallenged. However, it was not a declaration of war that would give a message of the greatest impact to the other Highland clans, but well-planned revenge. As he had told Ulf when his brother had suggested mounting an immediate attack on the Sinclair holding.

Riding an exhausted horse and feeling less than wonderful herself, Emily surveyed her new home with both curiosity and trepidation.

The journey from her father's barony had been a long one and arduous upon reaching the Highlands. Shortly after reaching Sinclair land, an envoy of warriors had arrived to finish escorting her to their keep.

Emily had been both disappointed and relieved to discover that her husband-to-be had not accompanied them. Part of her wanted the first meeting over, but an even bigger part was content to put it off indefinitely.

The Sinclair warriors had refused to allow the English soldiers any farther onto Sinclair land. They had taken over her escort and Emily found them poor company indeed. They did not speak unless asked a question and then they answered in monosyllables if possible. Would her husband-to-be do the same?

Perhaps she would feel better if people would stop staring at her so. No one smiled, not even the children. Some adults openly glared at her. She turned to her nearest escort. "Some of the clan seem hostile. Why is that?"

"They know you are English."

Apparently that was supposed to explain it all because he stopped talking and even her curiosity was not up to questioning the soldier further.

So the clan knew she was English? That must mean they were expecting her.

For those in any doubt, her dress would have given her away, she supposed. She'd donned the dark blue tunic over her clean white shift with stylish wide sleeves three days ago. It was now as creased and bedraggled as the rest of her, but even if it had remained pristine, it was nothing like the garb of the Highlanders.

They all wore plaids, even the children. The colors were muted green, blue and black. It was a striking combination. She'd said something to that effect to one of her escorts upon first meeting—admittedly in an effort to pretend she wasn't noticing the fact that their lower legs were as naked as a baby being washed. He had growled that of course it was pleasing; they were the Sinclair colors.

She'd stopped trying to make small talk soon thereafter.

She turned her interest from the less-than-welcoming people to the Sinclair castle. The construction surprised her. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but something so much like her own father's home was not it The ground had been raised to a hill with a moat around it. The keep, which looked like a single high tower, was built on top of the hill with a wall all around. The timber wall extended down the hill to surround the bailey as well.

She hadn't imagined anything so grand in the Highlands. Perhaps her husband-to-be was not such a barbarian after all. Perhaps he would even have a kind heart and allow her to send for Abigail to come live with them. That was her most fervent hope.

Her escort led her across the drawbridge toward the keep.

A group of soldiers on the steps of the keep caught her eye. They all stood with arms folded and scowling at her approach. One soldier, who stood in the middle and was taller than all of the rest, scowled most fiercely. She tried to avoid looking at him because the dislike, nay hatred, emanating off of him was frightening.

She hoped he was not one of her husband-to-be's close advisors. She scanned the crowd to find her future husband, their laird. Her escort had led her almost to the scowling soldiers before she realized that one of them must be him. Her only excuse for being so slow to realize it was her deep desire for it to be otherwise.

Please don't let it be the angry man in the center, she prayed fervently, crossing herself for good measure.

When the soldier in the middle stepped forward, she offered up a last desperate plea. But she knew it had been in vain when, without acknowledging her, he waved for her escort to follow him.

"Where do you want the English woman?" called the soldier nearest her.

Her future husband merely shrugged and continued inside. For the life of her, she couldn't think of any good excuse for his behavior. Even if he was a barbarian as Sybil claimed.

She could only be glad that Abigail had not been sent in her place. God alone knew what kind of horrible things he might have done to her gentle sister. Or perhaps it was the devil himself who knew.

She banished the wicked thought, but could not dismiss as easily the sense of doom settling over her.

Chapter 2

Emily's escorts swung off their horses and two young boys rushed forward to lead the animals away. She made haste to climb down from her own weary horse and nearly landed on her bottom in the process. Her legs had fallen asleep on the long ride since daybreak and they ached like blue blazes.

Weak tears pricked her eyes, but she blinked them away. Suddenly a hand stretched out to steady her. Startled, she looked up. It was one of the clanswomen.

She was lovely with curling dark hair and slightly tilted, velvety brown eyes. She was also pregnant. Emily couldn't miss the protruding bulge under the woman's plaid, but if she was not mistaken, the other woman was only about five months into her confinement.

She curtsied. "My name is Caitriona, but I am called Cait. I am to be your sister." The woman spoke slowly and with a thick brogue that reminded Emily how far north into Scotland she had traveled.

"You speak English?" Emily asked in shock, returning the other woman's curtsy, her own a little awkward because her muscles still did not want to cooperate "Yes."

"I'm most pleased to meet you, Cait. My name is Emily Hamilton, daughter of Sir Reuben," she said in Gaelic.

"I had drawn that conclusion," Cait said with a teasing glint in her eye. "You speak our tongue."

"My father's holding is on the border."

"Ah. I knew only that you were English."

"I don't suppose you know where I am supposed to go now?"

The soldiers had all disappeared. "You will stay with me until the marriage. I am sorry you cannot have your own room, but there are no empty sleeping chambers in the keep at present." Cait smiled apologetically, her face shining with even more beauty when she did so.