The Savage Highlander

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(Scarlet and Aiden are in a cabin with wolves circling.)

“They’ve been scratching the door,” she whispered. Her eyes were round in the dim light from the moon, round and full of terror.

Scratch! Scarlet’s hands leaped up in front of her chest where she clasped them together, her gaze snapping back to the door.

Without thinking, Aiden stepped forward to pull her against him. She shook, her body stiff, but she didn’t push away. His stomach clenched. “Bloody hell,” he whispered over her head. “What ye’ve been through tonight.”

He held her, willing his strength into her. He’d seen Scarlet Worthington defiant, stubborn, wry, and floating with joy when riding across the meadow. He’d never seen her filled with fear, and each of her tremors twisted inside him. “They can’t get in here, and ye’ve already proven that ye’re cleverer than they.”

Placing his hands on her shoulders, he bent so that his gaze would be level with hers and waited until she slid them from the door. “Scarlet, ye are safe now.”

She blinked and gave a quick bob of her head. He rubbed his hands down her arms, then held up one finger with a half grin. “Shhh,” he said and turned to the door, creeping up on it, waiting.

Scratch, scratch.

With the flat of his hands, Aiden slammed into the door, bellowing in a fierce roar. He slapped the door, then pounded with his fists, yelling, letting his anger fly up out of his mouth until his breath gave out. When he turned, Scarlet had gone to the window, pushing back the curtain. “They are running away,” she said and turned to look at him, her mouth open. “You scared away a pack of hungry wolves?”

“I startled them,” he answered, shrugging, but his gaze connected with hers. “They weren’t expecting it, like Finlay Menzies wasn’t expecting ye to kick his frigger so hard that he’s been puking ever since.”

She blinked. “You found him puking?”

He nodded, his gut untwisting enough to let him inhale fully. “Couldn’t even talk, doubled over.”

“Well, he was drunk, too.” She turned back to the window, looking out at the snow.

“They should stay away for a bit,” he said. “But they will wander back to their den by morning.”

He turned to his horse, running a hand down Eigh’s flank, and sighed as the horse pissed on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Scarlet said, gesturing toward the horses. “There was no time to find her shelter.”

He shook his head. “It will scrub up.” He patted Eigh’s white coat before grabbing a bucket. He lifted the bar on the door and filled the bucket with snow to melt. They would all need something to drink, and he doubted Scarlet would want whisky after tonight. Although, perhaps that was what she needed. He set the bucket over the iron grate in the hearth and found his flint for a fire.

As he struck and blew on the sparks, questions churned inside him, relighting his anger. But the lass was still raw. He didn’t know much about women, but he did know animals. Wild eyes and a stiff spine required a gentle approach. He waited until she moved from the window and took a seat in one of the two chairs set before the table that he’d built from a hundred-year-old oak that had fallen in a storm.

He kept his gaze on the catching flame. “’Tis late or early, depending on how ye view it. And cold. Finlay must have been the devil himself to drive ye from Castle Menzies.” He added a square of dried peat to the kindling and leaned down to blow on it. Scarlet sat silently.

Remaining crouched, Aiden swiveled toward her, peering past the tail of her horse. “What happened, Scarlet?” he whispered.

She looked away, her lips tight.

Aiden inhaled fully and let his long sigh fill the room. “Ye don’t have to say. I will return tomorrow to kill Finlay Menzies. We will take the sheep to Finlarig.”

“What?” Scarlet said, her gaze snapping back to him. “You…you can’t just go in and slaughter a man.”

He shrugged. “I will ask the bastard what he did. If he won’t tell me, then I will assume the worst offense and kill him. If he does tell me, I’m certain it will require me to kill him.”