Written in 60 minutes. No time for spell check or reread.
Less than three weeks after Jason returned from fighting alongside the Fraziers, the Camerons called for the help of the clan Morgan, and Jason had to, once again, leave his family behind in the keep under the protection of Johnny and several of his best men.
“You were spoiled the first year,” Tracy said on the third day of Jason’s absence when she sat down by the heart in the great hall. She reached for her pile of mending. “The Camerons and Frasiers were quiet.”
“I know. Jason said Highlanders like to fight,” Elizabeth grumbled as she bent over the tapestry she’d worked on most nights since Jason had left. They’d found a sweet maid to watch over Cameron for a few hours each night, and Jason had made her promise she’d spend more time sleeping and on her needlework.
She’d rather be in her room, watching her son breathe, making sure that he was safe, but the maid, Emma, was a loyal Morgan who wouldn’t let anything happen to the laird’s son.
Elizabeth flushed. “You must think me silly. Jason had to force me to leave the room.”
“I think you are a new mother who listened to me too closely.” Tracy shifted, uncomfortable. “I should not have told you about his mother’s losses. You’ve taken it too closely to heart.”
Elizabeth forced herself not ot smile. “Aunt, are you admitting to a mistake?”
“No,” Tracy said flatly. “I am never wrong.” She sniffed. “Just merely remarking that perhaps that particular story was not well-suited to your dramatic nature.”
“Ah, that sounds right.” Elizabeth frowned when she saw some activity near the entrance to the great hall. Johnny glanced up from the table where he was sitting with some of the men and strode across the hall.
Tracy shifted in her seat, narrowing her eyes. “What on earth—it’s after the supper hour—”
Her heart began to pound. She’d taken Jason’s return for granted, so sure that he would best anyone in battle. What if he was hurt—or worse—No, no, she’d touched him as he’d left, assured herself of his safety—but her visions couldn’t always be depended on—
“What’s going on?” Tracy demanded. “Johnny O’Brien—”
Johnny flashed the older woman an irritated glare and waved her off before returning his attention to the men at the door. He nodded, said something that neither of them could hear.
“That insolent—” Tracy turned to Elizabeth. “Can’t you see what the problem is?”
“I require touch,” Elizabeth said softly. “And Jason should be coming home to us. I never would have let him leave—”
“I’m sorry,” Johnny said as he joined them by the fire. “That was a scout from the border. There’s…there’s a royal procession camping just outside our lands.” He looked at Elizabeth who clenched her hands her lap, beneath the cloth of her tapestry. “The scout said it was Albany’s colors.”
“Why would the regent be this far north? He should be taking the princes to Edinburgh.” Tracy scowled and resumed her seat. “Is this about the business you told me about? The attack near Carnwell Pass?”
“Aye. Jason thinks the regent was behind it, but we can’t imagine why. He sent for Jason to marry me. Why would he do that—”
“Well,” Johnny said, pitching his voice a bit lower so that none of the men could overhear them. “You came there under your father’s protection. You couldn’t have stayed at court without his permission. After the wedding, he wanted you brought to the court. Mayhap he thought Jason would leave you at court.”
“He was irritated at being forced into marriage without being told—” Elizabeth’s lips pressed together. “His Grace was quite insistent I not tell Jason. I was so scared that he’d proclaim me as a witch or he’d leave me behind if I did.”
“And Albany thought Jason would be angry enough at your refusal to leave you behind. Under his protection. And control.” Johnny shrugged. “Not so many seers left, lass. ‘Tis passed through inheritance, and most never admit to the powers.”
“But that still doesn’t—he can’t think I’ll leave with him willingly,” Elizabeth said, twisting her hands. “And I’m Jason’s wife—”
“Jason isn’t here. Albany will know of the Cameron and Frasier’s recent battles. He’s been in Sterling for weeks. Word would have traveled.” Johnny shook his head. “Don’t worry, lass. I’ve sent a rider for Jason. He’ll return—”
“But the battle isn’t done. He can’t turn his back on an ally—”
“The Cameron will understand,” Tracy cut in. “Highlanders have little love for the court or any puffed up arse who thinks to walk onto their land and take what’s theirs.”
“You’ll stay in the keep,” Johnny told Elizabeth. “Stick close to Cameron, and I’ll take care of the rest. Albany can’t force his way in.”
“I keep being told what he can’t do, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped him yet.” Elizabeth got to her feet. “Good night, Aunt. Johnny.”
Tracy watched her niece by marriage climb the steps before turning to Johnny with a scowl. “Jason is two days away, even by the fastest messenger. It’ll be nearly a week before he can be here. By then, that damned duke will have stormed the keep and forced her to go—”
“Jason left me to protect his family,” Johnny said darkly. “I’ll not let her go without a fight.”
“See that you don’t.”
By mid-morning the next day, all of the keep knew something was wrong. The scouts reported at the royal procession was drawing closer, and Elizabeth knew what Tracy and Johnny weren’t telling her — Jason wouldn’t be able to return home in time.
“Couldn’t you smuggle me out through one of the passages?” she asked Johnny when the first-in-command came to report the regent and his men were maybe two hours away. “You could tell him I went to visit my father—”
“And left your newborn son behind?” Johnny said. He shook his head. “He would just go to our allies—”
“Is that not what they’re for?” Tracy snapped. Johnny glared at her. “They can hide her at the Camerons, and then move her to the Frasiers. Eventually Jason will return—”
“Jason can call on the Camerons and Frasiers to hide his wife. I’m the bloody Irishman that barely knows Gaelic,” Johnny retorted. “You’d have me bring the royal court to their doorway without Jason’s knowledge?”
They turned to Gannon at the doorway. The younger warrior swallowed hard. “The regent and a small contingent—they’re traveling ahead of the procession. They’ll be here in less than an hour.”
Johnny’s scowl deepened, and he turned back to Elizabeth. “You stay in this room with the babe. Both of you,” he told Tracy who narrowed her eyes.
Johnny didn’t stay to hear what Tracy would say next.
Elizabeth turned to look at her son. Her beloved, precious miracle. She traced a finger down his face. “There’s a woman in the village,” she said to Tracy. “She’ll be able to take over for me with the feeding. I made sure someone was able.”
“What fool thing—”
“He waited until he knew Jason wasn’t here. Until he knew the majority of Jason’s men were days away.” Elizabeth picked Cameron up and took him over to the hearth so she could sit with her son one more time and feed him. “He’ll lay seige to the keep.”
“I made a promise to Jason that my secret would never bring harm to the clan.” Elizabeth stared down at Cameron. “I could never repay his kindness in making me a wife and mother by bringing destruction to the place he loves.” She looked at Tracy. “We’ll be under attack in hours. Albany has come ahead of the others to see if you’ll turn me over. I can save you all.”
Maybe her vision had been just a nightmare. Maybe this babe would be all she had. There wouldn’t be another son, another year of this life—
“Would you sacrifice the clan to save yourself?” Elizabeth asked softly. She met Tracy’s eyes. “No. You would do the same, Aunt.”
“Jason will come after you,” Tracy told her, firmly.
“Aye, likely he will. And we’ll see what happens. But we don’t know what Albany wants of me or where he’ll bring me.” Her voice faltered. “Maybe I’ll be back and this will be just a story we tell the children one day.”
“You’ll look after my son, won’t you? And Jason. I know I don’t have to ask because you’re a Morgan and that’s what you do, but—” She cleared her throat. “I still need to ask. You had the raising of Jason, didn’t you?”
“That was his father, and he was a boy of ten by the time his mother passed—” Uncomfortable, Tracy began to pace the room. “But aye, I finished the job.”
“So I know you’ll look after my family. I love them. I should have—I should have told Jason that I loved him,” she admitted. “I was afraid. He never asked for any of this, and I didn’t want him to feel guilty for not feeling the same.”
“If you think my nephew isn’t stupid over you,” Tracy declared, “then I don’t see how you can call yourself a seer.”
Elizabeth laughed, but it was more of a choked sob. “I could never see for myself. I wish I could know that was true.”
“Then I’ll make sure he tells you when he comes to fetch you.”
Johnny hadn’t been able to keep the regent from coming into the keep. There had been a small scufffle at the front gates, but the Duke of Albany had easily gained entrance and within the hour, he was standing in the doorway of Elizabeth’s bedroom.
“Well, Lady Morgan, we meet again.” He flicked his eyes to Tracy. “Leave us.”
“Tracy.” Elizabeth kissed her son then slowly set him in his aunt’s arms. “Take Cameron somewhere safe and remember what I said.”
Tracy grimaced, then looked at Albany. “When my nephew hears of this, I hope he puts your head on a pike.” She stalked out the door.
Albany watched her leave. “Amazing to think she never married,” he muttered, then turned his attention back to Elizabeth. “You know why I’m here.”
“To make me leave. I just don’t understand why.” Elizabeth laced her fingers together to keep them shaking. “You were the one who brought Jason to me. You arranged our marriage. Why do you not leave us to live our lives?”
“He was supposed to be so angry at my command and at your refusal to tell him the truth that he’d leave you in a pique of anger.” Albany wrinkled his nose. “These Highlanders never do anything the way I want them to. I left you alone for as long as I could, didn’t I? I even let you have time to have a son—”
“You gave me a whole hear,” Elizabeth said. “How kind of you,” she retorted.
“You could bring the brat with you if you like—”
“Morgans belong here.” Elizabeth lifted her chin. “What if I refuse to leave? Will you destroy the keep?”
“If you refuse to leave with me now,” Albany said, his voice low and hard, “not only will I raze this holding to the ground, but I will make sure that all who live here know you to be a witch.”
Elizabeth’s heart began to beat a bit faster. “They practice the Old Ways,” she said softly.
“Do they? Every single one of them?” Albany raised a brow. “You are willing to take that risk? To destroy the land your husband holds so dear? I can do more than destroy this ragged keep, my lady. Do you want to ask the queen what I’m capable of?”
“No.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “No. I just wanted to know how evil you truly were. How did you know what I was capable of? Because you knew before I came to court.”
“I sent for you, my dear.” Albany reached for her arm and started to drag her towards the door. “Your mother was a dear, distant cousin, and I knew of her curse. I knew it traveled in the blood, and once I learned your father had hidden his youngest daughter away—well, it wasn’t that difficult. Satisfied?”
“My husband will come for me.”
“I hope, for your sake, that’s not true. Because it would be a shame for you to be the reason his clan was disbanded and he was executed for treason,” Albany hissed in her ear as he tugged her down the stairs. “Be grateful for the year I’ve let you have. You belong to me now. And he’ll replace you before the first snow falls.”