Read Blue Bonnets Online

Authors: Marie Laval

Blue Bonnets (4 page)

‘Get some rope from your box seat and get down here.' He'd tie both men up, shove them inside then drive the coach to
Sith Coille
to get Rose, with Shadow tied at the back.

The man nodded. ‘Yes, sir, straightaway, but you must believe me. I didn't want to do it, I swear, he made me…'

‘Shut up and do as I say.'

Just then he swayed and dropped the pistol as a terrible pain gripped his chest. Hell, it hurt even to breathe, and his head now felt about to explode. He dropped to his knees, his pistol fell from his hand and he fell forward. The guard threw him a surprised glance and scrambled to his feet.

‘What's wrong with him? He looks ill.' The driver called to the guard.

‘I don't know and I don't care,' the guard mumbled. ‘Let me finish him off then we can get out here. Blast, I can't find his pistol. Throw me your rifle.'

Bruce knew he had to do something or the guard would shoot him there and then. He felt the ground for his weapon. It had fallen close by, he was sure of it, yet his fingers only grasped small rocks, dirt from the road and frozen tufts of grass.

He hissed a sharp breath. Where was that damned pistol? He reached out a little further, and his fingers found the weapon at last. It took all his strength to flip his body over and sit up, then to lift his arm and shoot.

The shot went wide but sent the horses into a panic.

‘Let's go,' the driver yelled over the racket of the horses neighing and stomping on the ground. ‘Forget about him, he looks half dead anyway!'

With a shaky hand, Bruce re-armed the pistol and shot again. This time the bullet sent sparks into the night as it pinged against the side of the coach. Unable to stay upright any longer, he collapsed and his head hit the frozen ground.

He heard the hiss of the driver's whip, followed by the thunder of hooves and the creaking of the wheels as the coach started on the road towards him, and barely had time to scramble out of its way before it shot past, sending grit flying into his face.

Chapter Three

It was early evening in Bou Saada.

Dusk's lengthening shadows stretched across the garden. Touched by the last rays of sunshine, sandy Saharan plains shone like gold and distant mountain peaks hovered, a mauve haze above the line of the horizon. A light breeze whispered through the palm. It rustled the leaves of jujube, pomegranate and orange trees and carried the rhythmic, woody singing of cicada. The air was thick with fragrances – sweet, sensual, earthy fragrances of rose and jasmine, mint, sage and thyme, but the most potent of all was the scent of the oasis beyond the garden walls. Lush, moist, intoxicating.

A man's voice called her name and Rose‘s lips stretched into a smile. Hope surged inside her. Her prayers had been answered. Her father was home, at last. She ran so fast she felt she was flying. Her babouches crunched the multicoloured gravel on the garden lane. She grazed her arm on a cactus as she brushed past it but hardly felt the sting on her skin.

Her father sat on the low wall overlooking the town, a small, leather-bound book stamped with the imperial eagle in his hand. His military journal. He turned to her. He hadn‘t changed at all. His eyes were the same piercing blue, his hair just as dark and his face as weathered as she remembered. He put the book down, smiled and opened his arms wide. She nestled against his chest, laughing and crying at the same time as he ruffled her hair.

‘You came back,' was all she could say.

‘Listen, darling Rose,' he said. ‘I don't have time to explain.'

‘Explain what?'

‘The medal. You must find the medal.'

‘What medal?‘

A roll of thunder resounded above them, so loud it drowned her father's voice. The sky darkened at once, shadows engulfed the garden and an icy wind swept across the oasis, creeping inside her body and chilling her to the bones. Her father spoke again and pointed to the diary, but she still couldn‘t hear him. Then he too started to fade into the shadows.

He was leaving her, again.

‘Father,' she called. ‘Don't leave me again.'

The thunder got louder. Her father had already left.

She opened her eyes and glanced around. There was no garden, no Bou Saada and no golden Sahara sands in the distance. In their place was only darkness and fear. She remembered where she was – an empty old house, in the middle of the forest. She had fallen asleep sitting next to the hearth, huddled in her cloak to keep warm. It was the thunder that had woken her.

She held her breath and listened.

This was no thunder, but the rumbling of a galloping horse. Someone was coming this way. She jumped to her feet and rushed to the door, bumping into a chair and the table on the way.

‘Help! Help me please. I can't get out.'

She called out, again and again until she heard footsteps outside. The door rattled as the bar was dislodged then thrown onto the ground with a thumping noise. The handle shook but the door didn't open.

‘Move back. The door's locked. I'm going to kick it in,' a man's deep voice said.

Her heart skipped a beat. Her mouth became dry.

‘Lord McGunn? By Old Ibrahim's Beard, is that really you?'

He didn't answer but repeated his instruction, and this time she took a few steps back. A resounding crash echoed in the empty house and the door smashed open against the wall.

Lord McGunn stood still, his tall figure filling the door frame, darker than the night itself.

‘Are you all right? They didn't…hurt you, did they?'

She could hardly see his face or the expression in his eyes but from the gruff, weary tone of voice, she knew he was annoyed.

She shook her head. ‘No, the post-guard locked me in here then left. I don't understand why.'

‘You're married to one of the richest men in Scotland, that's reason enough.'

She frowned. ‘You mean to say that they wanted to trade me for a ransom?'

‘Aye.'

She bit her lip. ‘Where are they now?'

‘My guess is that they're trying to put as much distance as they can between themselves and me.' He added, his voice mean and hard. ‘But I'll get to them soon enough, don't you worry about it.'

‘How did you find me?'

‘I ran into the coach on the road to Melvich.'

‘That was…ahem…lucky.' Or not; she hadn‘t made her mind up yet.

He stared at her. ‘Luck had nothing to do with it. I've been chasing after you since dawn.'

He glanced towards the broken door. ‘Listen, it's snowing. I need to find shelter for my horse. We're staying here tonight.'

Reluctant to step back alone into the dark room, Rose stood in the doorway despite the cold wind blowing snowflakes all over her, and watched as he kicked open a barn door and pulled Shadow inside. By the time he came back, two bags hung over his shoulders, her teeth clattered with cold. Without a word, he fumbled inside one of the bags, pulled out a candle and a box of matches and at long last there was light. He handed the candle to Rose, slotted the door back into place and slammed it shut.

Rose lifted the candle in front of her to take a good look at the small room. There were no decomposing bodies, no skeletons or rats scurrying along the walls, just a table and chairs, a dresser and a couple of shelves on the walls and a bed tucked away in a corner.

Lord McGunn found a broken dish on the dresser and asked her for the candle back. He poured a few drops of melted wax onto the plate, stuck the candle in the middle and frowned as he turned to her.

‘You don't look well.'

His words bit into her self-esteem.

‘I could say the same about you,' she retorted.

With dark stubble covering his cheeks and the tips of his raven-black hair touching his shoulders, he looked more than ever like a warrior from an ancient and untamed past. Tonight, however, he was also pale, with deep lines framing his mouth and dark shadows under his eyes.

Her chest tightened. It was probably her fault he was tired. He had ridden all day to catch up with the coach and rescue her.

‘I suppose I must thank you for coming after me,' she started, hesitant.

‘Don't bother,' came his sharp reply. ‘I only hope you learnt your lesson. Your silly escapade could have ended in tragedy. You could have frozen to death, here on your own. Or worse.'

So much for gratitude! A sudden flash of anger heated her face and made her pulse race. Without thinking she stepped forward and jabbed her finger into his chest.

‘Did you really expect me to go along with what you were planning to do?'

He caught her wrist in a steely grip and bent down towards her slowly, until she felt his breath on her face and saw the dark specks of slate in his eyes.

‘You mean, what I am
still
planning to do,' he said in a cold, calm voice. ‘As soon as the weather lifts, I'll take you back to Wrath then ride to Westmore. I won't let your husband ruin me or my estate. If he wants you and his clipper back, he'll have to agree to my terms.'

She gasped and tears filled her eyes.

‘So my running away was all for nothing…'

‘It was indeed. And don't even think of trying that again because I will always find you.'

He pulled her a little closer, and she felt the heat of his body against her.

‘Wherever you go, wherever you hide, I will find you and drag you back to Wrath with me,' he repeated, enunciating every syllable before releasing her.

‘For now, I'll make a fire and get us a drink and something to eat.'

He walked to the fireplace, knelt down next to a basket filled with kindling and logs and started building a fire. He struck a match, slipped it into the pile and soon flames rose and crackled, bathing the small room in a golden glow and throwing huge shadows on the walls.

He lifted one of the bags onto the table and proceeded to unpack some food – a loaf of oatmeal bread, a piece of cheese wrapped in thin cloth, a few wrinkled apples.

‘That should last us a couple of days, until we can leave this place.'

‘A couple of days?'

‘I doubt the snowstorm be over sooner.'

Panic made her heart flutter.

‘But what will Cameron think if he finds out I spent even one night alone with you?'

Surprisingly, a slow smile stretched his lips.

‘It wouldn't be the first time, now would it, sweetheart?'

She blushed so fiercely even her ears felt like they were burning.

‘I didn't spend the night with you! I was in your bed less than five minutes, ten at most, and you know it.'

She bit her lip and wished she could take the words back.

‘I wasn't talking about that time,' he replied, ‘but about the night of the Northern Lights.'

‘The Northern Lights?' As soon as she spoke, elusive images of a dreamlike sky filled with colourful and shimmering patterns flickered in her memory.

‘What about them?' she asked, but a feeling of unease crept inside her.

Ignoring her, McGunn picked up a large cooking pot and took two earthenware tumblers from a shelf.

‘I'll get some water from the stream and wash those cups, so we can have a hot drink,' he declared before opening the door and going out into the night.

‘Wait! Tell me…' She shouted after him, but he was already gone.

Restless, she paced the floor for what felt an eternity. What did he mean about them spending the night together? And what on earth was taking him so long?

At last he came back. He opened the door, letting a blast of cold wind and snowflakes into the cottage.

‘What should I remember?' she asked as soon as he walked in.

He shook the snow off his boots, pushed the door shut with his shoulder and carried the cooking pot to the fireplace.

‘That'll take a while to heat up,' he said as he hanged the pot to a hook above the fire Next he pulled the two tumblers out of his coat pockets and placed them on the table.

She stepped closer. ‘I asked you a question.'

‘And I heard you.' He unbuttoned his coat, shrugged it off then looked straight at her.

‘What do you remember about the Northern Lights?'

‘They were beautiful lights in the sky.'

‘That's a start. What else?'

She frowned. ‘Nothing… I hope you're not implying that I slept in your room that night.'

‘Well, you weren't exactly in my room,' he said, throwing his wet coat on a chair.

‘So I wasn‘t in your…ahem… bed?'

‘No.'

She blew a sigh of relief. ‘That's all right then.'

He said nothing as he sat at the table, pulled a knife out his pocket and proceeded to cut the bread into thick slices. When he'd finished, he looked up and said.

‘Not really. You see, sweetheart… you were sitting very comfortably in my lap, in front of the fireplace.'

The blood drained from her face. She swayed against the table.

‘What?'

‘That's not all. I woke up at dawn and was about to take you back to your room when some of my staff came in and saw you.'

A terrible foreboding now crept into her heart. Her mouth, her throat became dry. She swallowed hard.

‘People saw me? How many?'

‘One or two.' He grimaced. ‘Make it a dozen.'

Her legs were suddenly too weak to carry her. She pressed her hand against her heart and collapsed on the bench opposite him.

‘This is awful,' she whispered at last. ‘What must people think of me?'

This time he grinned.

‘That you‘re just another woman who succumbed to my charm? I suppose it could be worse. At least you were dressed – in a fashion.'

‘In a fashion?' she squeaked. ‘What was I wearing?'

His grin widened. ‘A very fetching combination of frilly nightshirt, thick woolly socks – mine, I reckon – and cute little boots.'

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