The Pocket Watch(12)

By: Ceci Giltenan


Then she stopped. He had been certain her vitriol would finally spew forth. He had steeled himself before turning around. Again, she did the unexpected. She was polite. She apologized for not being able to keep up, accepted responsibility for her actions, and although he was certain she wanted to ask him to slow down, instead she said she would try harder. What the hell was she up to? It had to be some attempt to manipulate him.

Finally, when Castle Carr came into view, a place she had professed to despise only the day before, she stopped as if in awe, remarking on its beauty. This convinced him it had all been some sort of a performance, to what end, he knew not.

Now as he stared at the woman who had silently born the pain of injury as they walked, he was beginning to think it might not be an act. On the contrary, something was dreadfully wrong. The spoiled, self-pitying shrew to whom he was betrothed wouldn’t have suffered walking with a bruised elbow, much less broken ribs. Now she backed away from him, begging him not to make her ride.

“Margaret, please.” He looked into her eyes and saw…unbridled fear.

“It’s all right. Really, I can walk.” She sidestepped him, starting to walk toward Castle Carr. “See? I’m fine.”

He was at her side in several long strides, taking her elbow to stop her. “Margaret, ye can’t walk the rest of the way. I’m sorry I didn’t realize ye were hurt so badly.”

“It isn’t yer fault. Truly it isn’t. I don’t want ye to lift me on that horse.”

“Are ye afraid of Micah?” The horse she had called docile earlier? He searched her face for some sign that she was dissembling but she appeared guileless.

“Well…yes.”

“Robin has settled, would ye prefer to ride him?”

Margaret shook her head, terrified. “Oh, nay, not him.”

By all that was holy, Robin was her horse, brought with her from Castle Grant. But here she stood, as spooked as the horse had been earlier. Logan realized he needed to handle her in the same way. He lowered his voice, softening his tone, and cupped her cheek gently with one hand. “Then ride Micah. I’ll ride behind ye.”

“I don’t mind if ye ride. I-I’ll be fine.”

Clearly she misunderstood his meaning. “Margaret, what scares ye?”

She looked into his eyes for a moment before answering. “I wasn’t completely honest about my ribs. They hurt quite a lot. On top of not wanting to get back on a horse, I am afraid of ye lifting me.”

Dear God. “Lass, I’ll be as gentle as I can be. Ye can’t walk any farther. Let me help ye.”

She sighed and nodded, still looking terrified.

Logan led her to where Micah stood. Putting his hands at her waist, well below her ribs, he lifted her easily onto the horse’s back. He heard her quick intake of air. She frowned and bit her lower lip, but again, uncharacteristically, said nothing. He left his hands on her waist. “Are ye all right?”

Nodding slightly she said, “Aye,” but her strained expression told him otherwise. “How do I…” She looked around, appearing confused, “How do I get my leg over?”

“Ye don’t need to, lass.”

Panic crossed her face. “I can’t ride sideways. I can’t ride at all.”

“I’ll ride behind ye. Ye’ll be fine.” He swung up into the saddle, then pulled her gently onto his lap, putting his arms around her. “Are ye alright?” he asked again.

She nodded. “Aye.” He still didn’t believe her but he would sort it all out when they reached Castle Carr.

He maneuvered Micah close enough to Robin so as to grab the other horse’s reins, then urged Micah into a walk. “We’ll be home soon.”

~ * ~

Home. She had never been farther from home. The initial shock and wonder of her arrival into the distant past was wearing off, leaving her weary and aching. She didn’t know who this man was, but for the moment she liked the feeling of his arms around her. She rested her head against his chest.

Before long they rode into the village that surrounded the castle. A bit of the wonder returned as she took in the sights around them. None of the villagers met her eye. Perhaps that was the way of things, but it made her uncomfortable and she didn’t like it.