Duncan lifted the woman’s upper body into his left arm, cradling her head so that he blocked the rain. He probed near her wound gingerly with his right hand, and she frowned and weakly tried to turn away.
His wariness deepened. There was something about her, a familiarity that echoed inside his head but refused to take shape.
“Where am I?” she whispered, her accent English. “What happened?”
An English lady in the Highlands? He chose to answer the second question rather than the first. “Ye’ve a nasty wound to your head, mistress. Did ye fall?”
She blinked as if she might lose consciousness. “Where am I? What happened?”
Now it was his turn to blink, but he remembered that wounds of the head could cause confusion. He knew he had to stop the blood loss.
“Mistress, can ye stand?”
She opened those eyes again, large and golden, in a delicate face. Her dark hair streamed back from her forehead, her hairline coming to a peak.
He recognized her, a flash of memory from Stirling several years ago, when he’d glared his hatred at the Earl of Aberfoyle, a haughty old man on horseback, forcing aside a poor lass heavy with child to make way for him. The earl’s family was seldom in Scotland, so their arrival in the Highlands had caused a stir. Duncan had seen this woman riding just behind, wearing the fine gown and jaunty hat that marked her a noble lady. At least she’d looked distressed at her father’s actions.
Catriona Duff was the daughter of Aberfoyle, the chief of the Clan Duff and Duncan’s bitter enemy. Aberfoyle was one of the main reasons that Duncan was an outlaw who had to protect and feed his people while on the run.
He lifted his head and looked about, as if the earl and his entire retinue were somewhere nearby, waiting to attack him. “Where are your men?” he demanded.
“What happened?” she asked weakly.
“Ye’ve hit your head. Where are your men?”
Her hand fluttered toward her forehead, but he didn’t allow her to touch the wound.
A spasm of pain narrowed her eyes. “I found them . . . dead,” she whispered. “What happened to me?”
“I don’t know.” Six weeks after almost being captured, he was still wary of anything unusual in his part of the Highlands. Dead men would prove her story true, but he couldn’t deal with them now.
“I—I can’t remember—I can’t remember anything!” Though her cry was feeble, it was full of helplessness and fear.
“Ye don’t remember the accident?”
“Not . . . the accident, not even . . . my name.”
He frowned down at her, wondering at what intrigue she was playing—or what her father had set in motion. He wouldn’t put it past the bastard.
She clutched his plaid. “What happened to me?” she cried in despair.
“I do not ken. I must clean that wound. Can ye stand? I can pull ye up on my horse.”
He rose, lifting her up with him until she could clutch the saddle for support. After mounting, he reached down for her. He would have preferred she ride astride behind him, but she seemed so weak that he ended up cradling her across his thighs. She leaned into him, her head lolling onto his chest, her blood staining his black, red, and yellow plaid.
It didn’t take long to reach the rocky overhang he’d used for shelter several other times. Once out of the rain, he searched his saddle pack but found nothing that would do for a clean bandage. He ended up cutting several strips from the end of his shirt with his dirk. The wound seemed clean enough after all the rain, so he wrapped the improvised bandages around her head and hoped they stopped the bleeding.
She looked at him helplessly the whole time, and he felt like she was memorizing his features. He studied her, too. Her high cheekbones emphasized the hollows beneath, and her full lips hinted at an expressive mouth. Her pale face was as remote and beautiful as a statue, making her appeal to him on a primitive level that he would never acknowledge.
Why was she in the remote Highlands? According to gossip he’d heard long ago, she rarely visited her father’s castles. Was she the advance of a larger party headed right for Duncan’s unsuspecting people? She was so close to his hidden encampment. If he let her go, she could bring men to hunt the area, risking his people—risking the good he was trying to do. He couldn’t release her until he knew all the facts.
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