Exhausted from a sleepless night spent on the unforgiving ground, Elsbeth curled on her side with Mum’s little wooden cross clutched in her hand. She stared at the campfire’s dying embers glowing through charred wood and ash. It would be light soon, and the group would continue their journey to Stonecrest.
Conflicting emotions churned her stomach like turbulent tides. Her heart fluttered at the memory of riding with Brandon but squeezed when she recalled his violent nature. She closed her eyes and tried to conjure Fabien’s image, his light hair and smiling face. But Brandon’s dark eyes and boyish grin emerged before her.
Wishing to get the man out of her head, she rose and wrapped her blanket around her shoulders. Bea slept beside the orphans, and Brandon’s men lay clustered in the small clearing. Elsbeth tiptoed from camp and strolled along a narrow dirt path, winding through trees and down to the loch. Brisk air blew off the water, and chill bumps peppered her skin. She rubbed her arms and tugged the blanket tighter about her neck.
Dawn bathed the awakening forest in golden hues, and fog wafted off the tranquil loch. A black-throated diver floated across the pond. The industrious bird disappeared beneath the surface, leaving nothing but ripples in its place. As she’d done so many times beside Da’s loch, Elsbeth studied the calm water and tried to guess where the creature would re-appear. Moments passed. Not even an air-bubble crested. Without so much as a splash, the creature bobbed to the top with a wiggling fish in its black bill.
Wistful memories of playing with her sisters while Mum and Da rested beneath a shade tree surfaced. Three long years had passed since she’d last seen her family. She was homesick and longed for those precious, carefree days.
The sun stretched, sending its warming rays through an arbor of branches and leaves. Brushing aside her melancholy, Elsbeth continued along the light-dappled trail. A thunderous roar drifted on the wind, and she hurried downhill to view the water cascading over a stone ledge. Mist off the noisy flow dotted her face, and a rainbow of blue, red, and yellow arched from one side of the falls to the other.
She hiked her skirt, hopped to a flat stone, then another, and landed on a grey boulder positioned before the falls. Stretching her legs, she settled in to enjoy the stunning view.
A torrent poured over the shelf’s edge into a deep pool. Spray wafted from the churning white water, sprinkling lush vegetation bordering a trail that snaked alongside the basin and disappeared behind the falls. Her gaze traveled across the deluge to the far side. Pleased to see the trail continued, she wondered what creatures stole behind the wall of water.
Her mind wandered back to Brandon McLeod. It aggravated her that he affected her so. She must keep her distance, but accomplishing such a feat while traveling with him would not be easy. Once Da arrived, she would leave the commander’s care and return home with the orphans. Until then, she would endeavor to stay away from the man.
Sadness washed over her and seeped into her heart. By all accounts, the plan should give her a sense of resolution, but the thought of leaving Brandon caused lonesome emptiness.
Something burst through the falls and dove into the deep pool.
Elsbeth gasped. She drew her legs beneath her bottom, poised to sprint. Her heart raced, and her gaze darted across the rippling water.
A man emerged.
Her breath caught at the sight of his broad shoulders and chiseled muscles. Black hair covered his sculpted chest and abdomen. He shook his head and droplets sluiced along his bronzed skin.
She swallowed, and her interest roamed lower, but the water’s shadowed darkness concealed his…other attributes.
He ran a hand through his wet hair as he waded in the basin.
She couldn’t look away. Curiosity and more than a twinge of disappointment piqued. Her eyes strained, and she craned her neck to have a better angle.
He raised his head, and his eyes locked on hers.
Heavens! He’d caught her admiring him. What the devil was wrong with her?
His boyish grin returned. “Good morn, Sister.”
Elsbeth MacDougall recoils at the violent Scottish rebellion and the bleak plight of orphans. Vowing to protect the homeless, she embarks on a journey to Scone and sets her course to become a nun, sheltering children from the cruelties of war. But when Brandon McLeod arrives at the Abby, he shakes her convictions and stirs provoking emotions she buried long ago.
After English soldiers murder his family, Brandon McLeod determines a course of revenge and leads numerous clans in Scotland’s fight for freedom. Bent on the annihilation of English oppression, he is resolved to a life of solitude, vowing never to marry and chance the pain of losing loved ones again. However, that was before he met the enchanting Elsbeth.
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