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The Highlander's Stolen heart

By:Donna Fletcher

Chapter One

The Highlands, 1432 AD

“How can you wed when your heart is not in it?”

Heather shrugged. ”It is the way of things, Patience. Father is not well enough to lead the Clan Macinnes and with no sons, and I being the eldest daughter, it is my duty. And need I remind you that you did not have to accompany me on this journey to meet my intended,” —Heather smiled— “though I am most grateful you did.”

“And leave this lot,” —Patience nodded at the warriors who rode in single formation ahead of them— “to look after you and Emma? Absolutely not. Where is Emma anyway?” Patience rose up on her mare to glance around.

“Right here,” Emma said from behind her sisters.

“You were not there a moment ago,” Patience turned her head and scolded. “What did I tell you about remaining close?”

“An unfamiliar plant caught my eye and I had to take a look,” Emma explained.

“You could have been snatched up and abducted in seconds by a band of rebels. There has been much mischief afoot in these parts lately, and there is no telling what lurks in the surrounding forest. Do not wander off again.”

“Patience is right,” Heather agreed. “There has been talk of rebels pilfering the area.”

Emma drew her mare up alongside Heather. “I heard it was mercenaries out to claim land promised to them.” She lowered her voice. “They say the Dark Dragon has returned to claim his due.”

“Hush up,” Patience warned. “No one speaks that vile name. Besides, I have heard tell that King James has paid him well for his services and sent him on his way.”

“More likely that the Dragon provided much needed funding to King James and took his own leave home,” Emma said, “and home I heard was the Highlands.”

“Enough,” Heather scolded with a shiver. “Let us not speak about such evil. It is a joyous time. In a few short hours, I will meet my intended, Rogan of the Clan MacClennan and in a month’s time I shall wed.” She forced a smile. “Then in no time at all father will find you both suitable husbands and we will all be happily wed.”

Patience snickered. “I will wed who and when I want, and he will not be giving me orders.”

“I think we should stop for a rest soon,” Emma said. “I will go and alert the warriors.”

“How foolish my remark,” Heather said after Emma rode ahead.

“You are not the only fool. I should not have boasted about choosing my own mate.” Patience stared after her sister. “I worry so about Emma. She buries herself in the running of father’s land with no thought of a man.”

“Can you blame her? Father has tried several times with little success to arrange a marriage for her. Too plain of features and too smart of wit, that is what father has been told time and time again.”

“I do not understand it.” Patience shook her head. “My features are fair enough that men find me appealing. Your features are so stunning that father has to beat the men away with a stick, but Emma?” Patience shook her head again. “Her features are so plain that no man glances her way or they make snide remarks.”

“Not in your presence,” Heather said.

“Anyone who does will suffer for it, though it is Emma who has suffered the most. I wish she had not heard father tell you that when he had approached Angus, laird of the Clan MacClennan about an arranged marriage between Rogan and Emma that Angus laughed at him. The old warrior insisted that it be you his son Rogan wed or no one. And to hear tell, the son was adamant about the choice himself.”

“And since our lands border, it was an arrangement father could not refuse,” Heather finished. “I cannot believe Angus had the gall to request that Emma accompany me so that she could advise him on how to enhance his land’s production.”

“That is the only reason anyone is interested in Emma. She is brilliant in producing abundant crops, preserving food, multiplying stock, and keeping illness from claiming many, not to mention her studies with the various foliage and trees. Have you seen how she painstakingly continues to record everything in that monk’s parchment book?” Patience sighed. “Her name should be Patience, not mine.”

“Remember how often Mother had reminded you that she named you such because she instinctively knew patience was something you needed to learn.”

Patience smiled. “I am trying.” Her smile faded. “I wish there was something we could do to help Emma.”

“We do help her,” Heather said. “We are always there for her and we always will be.”

“It is not enough. You cannot tell me that she never thinks about falling in love and having children. She may speak mostly about her interests, but you cannot tell me that the thought of being kissed, held, and made loved to, has never entered her head.”

“I think the incident with Daniel, the miller’s son, turned her against ever trusting another lad.”

“And Daniel got what he deserved from me—two black eyes and a split lip.”

“You cannot fight her battles all her life,” Heather warned.

“I can and I will.”

“Mother should have named you Obstinate.”

“And she should have named you Sweet,” Patience said wrinkling her nose. “What should she have named Emma?”

“Lonely,” Heather said sadly.

~~~

Emma rode in the front near the lead warrior James. He would talk with her on occasion, though his focus remained mostly on his surroundings. Older than the other warriors with a paunch to his stomach and graying hair, he nonetheless was a fierce fighter and one of her father’s most trusted warriors and also his closest friend. He also was a bit of a champion to her, since he would admonish any of his warriors if they cast a disparaging remark about her.

She had thought she had convinced herself that it did not matter that she was plain and that no man found her appealing. She had her interests and that was enough. But when Heather had mentioned that they would all be married one day, it was as if someone had reminded her of what she would never have.

The only way she thought she would