Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(3)

By: Ceci Giltenan

Grace tried to extricate herself from his grip. “That isn’t necessary. I’m sure yer father needs yer assistance.”

Fearchar only tightened his grip, his fingers digging cruelly into her arm. “Nonsense,” he said, giving her arm a jerk. “Clearly, he doesn’t need my assistance. He certainly doesn’t listen to my advice.”

He strode angrily away from the center of the village, pulling her along beside him, causing her to stumble. She was afraid. No one had ever handled her so roughly. “Please stop, ye’re hurting me.”

He ignored her, yanking her beside him until they reached her little cottage, well out of sight of the people gathered in the square. He shoved her against the front wall. Kristen whimpered.

Fearchar grabbed Grace’s face with one hand and painfully squeezed a breast with the other. He leaned in, planting a brutal kiss on her lips.

Holding her daughter with one arm, Grace tried without success to push him away with the other. When Kristen started wailing, he let Grace go, raising his hand as if ready to backhand the child. “Nay, don’t hurt her!” She turned her back to Fearchar, sheltering Kristen with her body.

Fearchar yanked Grace back to face him. His hand still raised, she covered Kristen’s head with her free hand, preparing to fend off the blow. But he didn’t strike either of them, he simply glared at her. Slowly he lowered his hand. “Ye will be living at the keep before the end of the summer and then ye will be mine to use when I want ye. That is my promise. It will be better for ye if ye decide to come of yer own accord, sooner rather than later. If ye resist me on this, I will make ye sorry.” He turned and strode back to the village square, leaving her terrified and trembling with a screaming child in her arms.

“Wheesht, Kristen.” Grace patted her back, trying to soothe her even as she rushed inside their little cottage and barred the door. “Wheesht, little one,” she crooned. “He’s gone now. We are home. Everything will be fine.” Kristen stopped wailing, but her little body still jerked with sobs.

Everything will be fine. Even as she said it, Grace knew it was an empty promise. Everything would have been fine if she had just been allowed to live her simple life and raise her daughter quietly, unnoticed. Even that pale dream now laid shattered amongst all of her others. Fearchar had a reputation of being both cruel and self-indulgent. Grace was certain that he would make good on his promise.

She swayed back and forth, humming a lullaby, lulling Kristen to sleep.

There was work to do, but Grace needed to feel the comfort of her sleeping daughter in her arms for just a few more minutes. Instead of tucking Kristen into bed for a nap, Grace sank into a chair simply holding her precious babe and remembering the sweet perfection their lives had been just months ago.

She thought of her parents. Of the many gifts they gave her, by far the most wonderful had been their capacity to love. They showed their love to her and to each other without reserve. Perhaps then it came as no surprise when, at seventeen, she too gave her heart without reservation to Callum Breive.

A tear slipped down Grace’s cheek as she remembered her husband. When she caught his eye, he had been a tall, shy, slender lad of nineteen with sandy brown hair and gray eyes who was alone in the world. He worked on the fishing boats with her father and as much as her father had hated to admit it, he liked and respected the young man. After about a year her parents had finally consented for them to be wed. She delivered their wee perfect lass, Kristen, nine months later, on the day after Grace turned eighteen.

Had it only been six months since her world began to unravel? It seemed a lifetime ago.

Shortly after Michaelmas, her mother became ill and never completely recovered. Then, late in October, a terrible gale blew up suddenly, early one afternoon. Wind, rain, and ice pellets pounded the little cottage. Grace’s anxiety had risen as darkness fell and her father and husband hadn’t returned.

“What never helps, Grace?” Her mother had asked the question that she had asked for as long as Grace could remember. It was intended to teach her to stay calm.

“Panicking. Panicking never helps, Mama.”

Still, it had been all Grace could do to keep from panicking when Sheila came to tell them the small fishing boat Tristan and Callum worked had gone down in the storm. Lachie and his men on a nearby vessel had witnessed it, but were barely able to stay afloat themselves and could do nothing help.