Home > Bethia (The Highland Clan #10)

Bethia (The Highland Clan #10)
Author: Keira Montclair

Chapter One



Autumn 1280s, Highlands of Scotland


Bethia Ramsay settled on the straw next to the litter of puppies her half-brother Torrian’s dear wolfhound had given birth to a few days ago. The wee squeals that came from the furry bundles as they pushed at one another and nuzzled their mother in search of a teat made her smile. Their mother Bretta stared at her, a bland expression on her face that spoke of exhaustion. It was a chore taking care of six wee ones, even for a dog.

Bretta was still feeling quite protective of her offspring, so Bethia did not attempt to take any of them away from her yet. Torrian was the only person the new mama would allow near her puppies for a while, and Bethia respected that.

A beastly bellow much like the cry of a wounded animal echoed across the moors between the forest and Ramsay land. Leaping up from her spot, Bethia yanked her skirts down before she tore out of the stables to see what kind of creature had made that sound of terrible pain.

She stood in the doorway, searching for an animal, but the bellows had come from beyond the curtain wall. Eager to see what was causing the noise—and, hopefully, to help—she hurried to the gate. To her surprise, it wasn’t an animal, but a man, and he was running straight toward the guard in the gatehouse.

Her brother and laird, Torrian, raced toward the gate. Though she hadn’t noticed him in her haste, he must have left the keep just when she’d left the stables. She didn’t recognize the man, but apparently her brother did.

“Donnan, calm down,” he said. “Tell me what happened.” The guard had opened the gates, and the giant of a man tore right toward her brother.

“My dog. Torrian, my dog, Wynda!” He stopped only because Torrian held out a hand to him.

She heard the voices of more guards, men who’d approached to investigate the sound.

“Daft Donnan again.”

“He’s getting worse and worse.”

“What the hell could be wrong with Daft Donnan? There’s no blood on him.”

When Bethia turned her head to glare at the guards, she saw her mother, Brenna, hurrying toward them from across the cobblestone courtyard. “Is he hurt, Torrian?” Brenna was the healer of the castle, and although Torrian, her stepson, had mostly taken over from his father as laird, she was still treated with the respect due to the mistress of the Ramsays.

Bethia moved closer because she’d heard the man mention his dog.

“Slower, Donnan,” Torrian said. “Slow down, I cannot understand you. What is it?”

The man stood at least a head taller than her brother, who was a tall man, and boasted a full beard the color of chestnuts and matching hair, which had probably not been clipped for years. His brown eyes danced back and forth in a look of fear, the kind that bubbled out of the gut and took control of a person.

“My dog. Someone attacked my dog. She’s bleeding. I need Lady Brenna.”

As soon as Donnan set eyes on her mother, he hurried over to her. He looked eager enough to grab her, but controlled himself enough to fist his hands at his sides instead. “Please, mistress. Please come save my dog.” He bent over at the waist, taking deep breaths for a moment.

Brenna glanced at Torrian, clearly hoping for an explanation—who this man was, what had happened to him, anything.

Torrian said, “This is Donnan. He lives alone in a cottage he built for himself near the falls. I gave him a couple of puppies from my last litter, and he has Morda.”

Brenna held her hand out to Bethia. “Donnan, I do recall your name now. My daughter is the best healer for animals. This is Bethia. Mayhap she could come along with me.”

The man was so undone, he was incapable of speech, tears misting his eyes as he gazed at Bethia. “Please save my dog. Please?”

His contorted face broke her heart, so she nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. Let me fetch my bag.”

“I’ll do it. I’ll get it for you. Where is it?” He started to dash off toward the stables before racing back to stand in front of her. “Where?”

The man’s wild temperament would have frightened her if not for her brother’s manner. He moved over to set his hand on Donnan’s shoulder. “I’ll get Bethia’s satchel. You wait right here for us. You came on your horse?”

He nodded.

“We’ll follow on horseback,” Torrian said softly. “Bethia, my mother, and I will all come. Will that suit you?”

He nodded. “My thanks, my thanks.” He spun on his heel and ran back to mount his horse outside the gates, never once turning back to check on them, instead sending his horse into a full gallop across the moor. The guards who’d come to assess the situation shook their heads and muttered to one another. Before they could wander away, Kyle, Torrian’s second-in-command, came hurrying toward them from the keep.

As soon as Donnan was out of hearing range, Bethia turned to her brother. “Is he truly daft, Torrian? Should we be going?” She didn’t try to hide her nervousness about the man she’d agreed to help. “Does he live on our land?”

Torrian glanced at Brenna, who grasped Bethia’s hand and said, “He’s not daft, dear. Donnan joined the clan four summers ago. He used to be a warrior for your father, but his wife left him for another, so he chose to move away and live alone. Your brother was gracious enough to give him three dogs. He dotes on them.”

“He takes verra good care of the dogs. He loves them. Trust me. You’ll be pleased to see him with any of his animals.” Torrian called out for Kyle to assign ten guards to travel with them.

As they walked to the stables to mount their horses, Bethia’s mother continued with her explanation. “I had so hoped Donnan would come back to live with the men, be one of your guards, Torrian, but he’s not ready yet.”

“He may never be,” Torrian said. “He took his wife’s betrayal verra hard. He’s not been the same.”

“He’s not likely to find another living out in the wild,” Brenna said. The stable boy saddled their horses, and Bethia stroked her horse’s velvety muzzle before mounting up like the others had done. While her mother flicked the reins of her horse and led them out through the gates, Bethia hung back until Torrian had assigned the ten guards their positions. Then brother and sister rode together to catch up.

“I would hardly call where Donnan lives out in the wild.” Torrian laughed, returning to Brenna’s comment. “The man appears unkempt because of his hair and beard, but he’s far from bedraggled. He’s a step ahead of the rest of us, in my opinion.”

“What do you mean?” Bethia asked, riding between him and her mother.

“Donnan is clever and he loves to work with his hands. His pups have better living quarters than my deerhounds, and his house is a marvel to behold. Ask him to show you sometime, Brenna. You’d love his contraptions.” Torrian took the lead, glancing over his shoulder as his horse galloped toward the path through the forest.

Bethia felt calmer after hearing her mother and brother discuss Donnan’s attributes. If the man would trim his beard or his hair, he might not look so frightening. She giggled, remembering her first thought upon setting eyes on him: that he looked like a giant bear. He was tall and broad-shouldered, though his clothing was so threadbare and loose, she couldn’t tell aught about the rest of his build.

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