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“I think not, Monk. Uisge is the true water of life. Your brandy is for men who’ve not the mettle for a true Highland drink. Now if you’re through orating, I ’ll hear what you’re about. ”

“Of course, I digress. I was saying how our fine fighting Englishmen are systematically quelling your little Highland insurrection. Indeed, other of your Highland chiefs and fellow Royalist insurgents have surrendered their arms in recognition of the supreme authority of the English Parliament. And, for my part, I have treated them with great leniency.”

“Och, you mean you bought them. Well, I ’m not for sale.

I ’m not pulled where the tides may take me. Unlike yourself, as I understand it. You were once a Royalist, is that not true? Your father spoke for the king, yet it became …inconvenient for you to do so. Have I the right of it?”

Monk’s genteel façade momentarily flickered, and Ewen continued after only the briefest of pauses. “Now if that ’s all you ’ve to say, our business here is through. ”

“I wouldn’t be so hasty if I were you, laird. That is not all I have to say. I ’m offering an end to the killing of your men and recognition of your custodianship of Cameron lands. All you need to do is order your men to desist in these skirmishes, which though potentially catastrophic for you, are for the English army no more than the harrying of midges. ”

“You offer me lands that I already call mine? The Highlands are not for you to give. ” Ewen rose abruptly. “I ’ll thank you to allow me and mine safe passage out of this camp. ”

Ewen glanced back at Monk from the tent entrance. “White queen to rook four. Mate in two. ”

“Very nice, I was wondering if you’d see that move. ” A tight smile curled the edges of the general’s mouth. “I will see you again, ah, what do they call you …Lochiel? You will soon learn that this is only the beginning. The English Parliament is here to stay, and you have only begun to feel the might of its authority. Cromwell is its arm and I, good sir, am the gauntleted hand that imposes its will. ”

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Monk took a slow, deliberate sip of brandy. “You will come to understand that your Highlands are merely a province of England. Your lands merely the commons. If you would keep your people safe and your lands intact, Ewen Cameron, seventeenth captain and chief of Clan Cameron, I recommend you consider my offer. For if you do not, you will be considering a premature grave in its stead. ”

“Till we meet again, then, General. ” Ewen paused before exiting the tent. “And one thing for you to think on. My people have a saying. ‘A shored tree staunds lang. ’ It means threatened folk live long, in case you’ve not the Scots tongue.”

This time only two redcoats caught sight of the Highlanders as they left the camp.

Ewen looked up at the position of the sun in the sky. If they rode hard, they would be back at the Cameron keep in time for a late supper. He would have some good come of the day, even if that only meant ending it with a hot meal. Now they were racing the sun back to Tor Castle, and all they had to show for their meeting were empty bellies and spent mounts.

He had heard that Monk was trying to buy every chief this side of Edinburgh, though he hadn’t fully credited it until his meeting with the man. Word was, more than a few Highlanders were aligning themselves with the general, and Ewen supposed he couldn’t blame them. Offers of money, land, and security were hard to snub, especially as the redcoats showed no sign of halting their trail of blood and destruction through the Highlands. The British soldiers laid waste to land and cattle as they went, cutting men down without mercy, taking others prisoner to send off as slaves to English plantations in the West Indies. If it were merely a matter of property or battles between men and men alone, it would be a different matter. But the redcoats put all villagers to the sword, regardless of age or sex, inflicting horrors dependent on their mood or the depths of their fury and resentment on any given day.

Ewen had hoped to broker peace, but he wouldn’t sacrifice the integrity of his land and his people to do so.

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“We are sons of the hound. ” He fingered the brooch his father had given him.

“And we will be on no man’s leash. ”

Chapter 5

In her dream, Lily was sunbathing at Baker Beach back home. She was on her stomach, resting her face to one side in the sand. It was one of those rare San Francisco days where the sun was beating down. Her body was warm, languorous, and she felt as one with the rhythmic ebbing and flowing of the waves, which she felt echo through her body. Her left cheek was hot and slightly damp where it rested on the packed sand. She shifted slightly, enjoying the sensual feeling of the earth cradling her body. The warmth intensified, though, and little by little Lily ’s mind rose to that place between waking and sleeping. She became gradually aware that she wasn’t on the beach. The warm sand cradling her face became sharp gravel digging into her cheek. She began to realize that the heat didn’t emanate from the ground—it was her body that was hot, and getting hotter. Slowly, all the sensations of fever washed over her. She became aware of specific pains in odd places—her right knee, the side of her neck, her eyelids. The fever became more uncomfortable as her body seemed to consume all the heat from the ground, which now felt painfully cold against the hot ache of her limbs.

How odd, Lily thought, to be hit by a fever like this, so out of the blue. There had been a tremor of some sort—maybe she had fallen and hit her head. That thought got her eyelids fluttering. If she had a head injury, she needed help immediately; falling asleep could be disastrous.

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The entire morning came back in total clarity. The maze, that mysterious stone carving. She must’ve been thrown through some break in the shrubbery, for there was sunlight all around her instead of that hideous plant. That would explain the numerous scrapes that she felt stinging the side of her cheek. She shuddered at the memory of those drab leaves and black fruit that in retrospect seemed nothing short of malevolent. As painful as her fall was, she was relieved to be free of the labyrinth. She hadn’t realized till then just how terrified she had been, how trapped and lost she had felt. It was hard not to let her imagination get the better of her and she shrugged off notions of evil spirits toying with her.

Lily lay there for a moment taking a physical inventory. As acute as her fever was, it had been hard to feel anything but chills and heat gripping her body. Now she became aware of excruciating pain in her right shoulder, which she assumed must have been what had broken her fall. She wriggled fingers and toes. Nothing seemed permanently damaged, but her body was on fire, and the chills wracking her told Lily that her fever hadn ’t stopped rising.

She tuned back into the ground beneath her. She remembered her dream, lying on the warm sand, feeling the pulse of the waves drumming the beach around her. She opened her eyes with a start. She could feel something—a distant rumbling in the earth beneath her. She could almost hear the pounding as she felt it reverberate through her body, growing in its intensity with each passing second. She worried that the earth was sounding another coming tremor, so she gritted her teeth and pushed herself to her knees. If an earthquake was to hit again, she was determined to keep her eyes open this time.

Lily gasped as pain shot through her torso, and looked in horror at her right arm lying limp at her side. If she had a dislocated shoulder, which seemed the obvious explanation, she would need to muster all of her strength and find help immediately before she went into shock. Clutching her useless arm to her side, she slowly rose to her feet and turned around and around to get her bearings. Lily thought it odd that she could no longer see those mean leaves and branches of the plant in the maze. Instead, she was standing in the shadow of a sheer granite face that reached ten feet above her head. The Scottish landscape was so uneven, Lily thought perhaps the maze was precipitously situated on the edge of one of the many Scottish hills and the force of the tremor had tossed her like a rag doll over the edge. That would account for the dislocated shoulder and the myriad aches that wracked her body, though it did nothing to explain her suddenly high fever.

She froze. The thundering sound she had heard was getting closer. Lily focused and thought she could hear a man ’s voice. Horses, it was men on horses.

Ewen shot his uncle an aggravated look. “Och, I thought this day could get no darker. ” He kicked Ares into a gallop just as the figure in the distance rose and began to stumble forward.

Though wearing some sort of breeches, the person was unmistakably female. She was tall and slight, except for her full bosom that any red-blooded man could spy clearly in such a scandalously tight blouse. Her hair was its own wonder, with thick white-blonde ringlets flying loose in the breeze. Ewen wondered what kind of woman would have the gall to trespass on Cameron lands.

They were upon her in seconds. She didn ’t even have the chance to jump out of the way. Time suddenly seemed to stop. Lily had always believed that when her moment came, she would see her life flash before her eyes. Instead, absurd and highly detailed thoughts flitted through her mind. I’m just like a deer in headlights, she thought. She smirked. Hairy men in skirts. I’m going to be trampled by a troop of mad, hairy, dirty Scotsmen in skirts. The impact knocked her back into unconsciousness.

Ares reached her just as she was crumpling to the ground. The laird didn’t need to slow much in order to gather the lass up into his saddle, featherlight as she was. Then they had lost a bit of time, forced as he ’d been to slip her arm back into its socket. No good would have come from letting an injury like that go untended. They couldn’t risk the perilous amount of blood that would surely pool at her shoulder; as it was, he felt ill at ease not binding the arm immediately, but that would have to wait till their return home when they had more time and a decent healer besides. Sorting out her injury without removing the peculiar blouse she wore had been an aggravation, but he wouldn’t have his men eyeing this woman. He had no idea where she came from and he surely didn’t trust her, but something about this lass lying still in his arms compelled his protection. He reminded himself to remain on guard: a morning spent with General Monk didn’t dispose one to think kindly of strangers. As far as he was concerned, his people were at war, and he had to be skeptical of every person who set foot on Cameron land.

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