Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(4)By: Ceci Giltenan
Maybe her mother would have been able to recover from her illness if the heart of her heart hadn’t been ripped from her and dragged to a watery grave. However, the loss of her husband took a toll on Catriona’s already fragile health. She finally succumbed to her illness in February.
Sheer determination had kept Grace rising to face each new day but she kept them fed and earned enough to pay the rents. She had convinced herself she could build a life for her daughter. Perhaps not the one she had always imagined, but at least they had a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and some measure of security.
Security. How could she have been foolish enough to believe they were secure in any way? She gave a mirthless laugh, which caused Kristen to stir, drawing Grace from her memories to the present where there was work to do. After soothing her back to sleep, Grace tucked her in. She had barely left the bedroom when a soft knock sounded at the cottage door. She called through the door, “Who’s there?”
Sheila answered, “Friends, love. Ye can let us in.”
Grace unbarred the door and opened it. She expected to see Sheila and Lachie but there were also several other men from the village. They all wore grim expressions. Sheila rung her hands and looked to be on the edge of tears. Lachie said gently, “Grace, lass, we need to talk with ye.”
“Aye, Lachie. Come in, but we’ll need to keep our voices down, Kristen is napping.”
They filed in, some taking seats, others standing, all clearly worried. “Ye all look so somber, surely it isn’t that bad.” But she knew that was wishful thinking.
“Sit, lass,” Lachie said and guided her to the chair by the hearth. “What happened after ye left the square? I saw Fearchar leave as I spoke to the laird about me own rents. I worried that he was after ye so I excused myself as soon as I could, only to see Fearchar, clearly angry, striding back to the square alone. Were ye able to get back here and bar the door?”
“Nay, he caught up to me and insisted on seeing me home.”
Several of the men groaned. “Did he hurt ye, lass?” asked Hamish?
“Nay, not really. He tried to kiss me. It scared Kristen.” Grace didn’t admit to how much it had scared her too.
“What did he say to ye?”
A hot blush rose on Grace’s cheeks and she looked at her hands, clenched in her lap. “He said that I will be living at the keep before the end of the summer and then…then…”
“Then what, lass?” prodded Lachie.
“He said…I will be his to use when he wants.” Grace’s voice was barely audible but by the men’s reactions, she knew they had heard her.
Several men swore under their breaths.
A pained look crossed Lachie’s face. “Aye, that’s what I feared. He threatened some of us before he left.”
Grace was shocked. What could he do to her friends? “Threatened ye? How?”
“He told me that he will not take any further public support of you kindly,” said Hamish.
“Aye,” said another villager, “and he’s done worse. He told me he would be greatly pleased by anyone who tells the laird that ye have become a burden.”
Grace bowed her head. “It is worse than I thought.”
“Ye know we won’t lie about ye Grace,” said Lachie. “But when Fearchar wants something, he usually gets it. He will not rest until he has ye, regardless of what we do. The only thing to do is get ye off the island.”
Sheila knelt beside Grace, and took her hands. “Yer mama and da weren’t born here on the island. Do ye know anything about their families?”
Grace sighed. “I don’t know much. My Da was a Sutherland.”
“I can get ye to Sutherland territory,” Lachie assured her. “We’ll sail to Durness. I have friends there who will be able to see ye safely south to the Sutherlands’ holding.”
“Does yer mother not have people there too?” Hamish had asked. “If ye can’t find yer da’s kin, perhaps yer mother’s family would take ye in.”
“Nay, I don’t think she has anyone,” Grace said. She didn’t want to admit that she didn’t even know her mother’s surname.