Highlander Most WantedBy: Maya Banks
“I would prefer our conversation to take place when I’m at least covered,” she said in a tart voice that gave him hope.
A saucy Genevieve he could take. A beaten-down, frightened Genevieve made his stomach knot.
“I’ll turn my back and allow you to leave the water so you don’t grow chilled,” he offered.
When he didn’t immediately proffer his back, she frowned and made a circling motion with her hand.
Smothering a smile that surprised him by twitching at his lips, he swiftly turned his back and stared at the keep looming in the distance.
Damn it but he didn’t want to be soft toward her. He didn’t want her to make him smile—or anything else. But he was a liar if he suggested such. He could tell himself all he wanted, but there was something about the lass that was compelling.
His body and mind were not in accord on this matter, and his body was fast winning the battle.
“Do you ever wish but for a moment to go back in time?” Genevieve McInnis whispered as she stood in the window of the tiny tower room that had been appointed to her more than a year past.
The summer sun was high and showed no signs of lowering in the sky, and yet she could sense darkness. Knew it was coming. The Montgomerys would not allow the injustice done to one of their own, and now the whole of the McHugh clan—or what was left of it—would pay the price for Ian McHugh’s daring.
She should be afraid, but she’d long ago accepted her fate. Her possible mortality. She didn’t fear it as she once may have. There were worse things than death, as she’d discovered. Sometimes living took far more courage. Facing another day. Enduring. Those things took strength. Far more than dying.
The wind picked up, blowing cool on her face, relieving the sting of the sun. Her question whispered softly in her ears, as if the wind had gathered it up and carried it back on its wings.
If only she’d never met Ian McHugh. If only she’d stayed in her chamber that fateful day when he’d arrived at court and had become instantly obsessed with her.
But his obsession hadn’t been limited to her. He collected things. Women. They were objects he viewed as possessions. He was like a petulant child guarding his favorite toys. If he couldn’t have her, then no man would.
It was the same with Eveline Montgomery, a woman who, like Genevieve, had spurned Ian’s advances. This time, however, he’d crossed the wrong clan, and he’d paid for it with his life. Graeme Montgomery had righted the wrong done against his wife and had spitted Ian on his sword in front of the whole of the McHugh clan.
And now the entire clan waited with anxious worry for the return of the Montgomerys. Ian’s father, Patrick, the laird—as laughable as that thought was—had fled only this morn, because he bore the knowledge that Graeme Montgomery would return to avenge his wife. As Genevieve had prayed that he would.
Finally. Finally, she would have at least a hope of freedom.
Patrick was no laird. Ian had run roughshod over his father from a very early age. Ian made the decisions. Ian bullied his father. Ian had ruled in Patrick’s stead for years now. All that was left for it was for Patrick to step aside and name Ian as his successor.
Only now the clan lay in ruins. Many had fled, avoiding the inevitable bloodbath that would surely occur. Others had stayed only because there was no place for them to go.
Such was the case with Genevieve.
Where would she go?
To her family, she was dead. Believed killed in an ambush as her party made the journey to her betrothed. Ian McHugh had swept in, slaughtering every last man and woman accompanying her to her intended husband’s holding. He’d borne Genevieve back to his own keep, vowing that no man save he would ever possess her.
It was a vow he’d kept.
She raised her hand to touch the scar marring her left cheek. She closed her eyes to prevent the sting of tears. There was naught crying did for the matter. She was long past the stage of tears and self-pity.
When she’d rebuffed Ian’s advances after her capture, as she’d done the first time they were introduced at court, his rage had known no bounds. He’d slashed her face with his knife, swearing before God that no man would ever again look upon her with desire.
He was right. No man could look upon her now with anything but horror. She’d witnessed too many times the instant recoil when she turned her head and the scar came into view.
And in the end it hadn’t mattered that she’d refused Ian’s advances, because he’d taken what he wanted, over and over, until she had no defense against him. No strength. No power. Just numb resignation.
She hated herself for that. Shame and humiliation were her constant companions, and now that he was dead she wanted only to be free of this place.
But where would she go?
Indeed, where would she go?
She closed her eyes, willing her anxious heart to stop tightening in her chest. Dread was squeezing her breathless, and she knew she was on borrowed time. Her fate—and judgment—awaited her.
The door to the tiny prison that had served as her chamber flew open, and Taliesan limped heavily toward her, her face a grimace of pain and fright.