One year to make a profit, or you lose everything. His father’s bitter terms battered against Kerrick’s determination.
And don’t sully the Hay name anymore than ye have, his older brother had added.
Dammit. He’d been a hero in Cromwell’s army, but at home he was just a lowly traitor.
Kerrick guided Leum over the spongy moor, made more treacherous after the rains. Careful progress took nearly an hour, bringing him before the three-story fortress. At least all four walls seemed to be standing. The wind blew the limbs of two large oak trees, their yellow leaves flitting down like colored rain as he led Leum around the eastern side where a stonewall enclosed what he remembered was a back garden. There was little hope it had survived decades of neglect. He stopped Leum near the barn.
“Serves you right. Working for William.”
He pivoted at the sound of the voice. A lass?
Rocks clanked together as if she were dropping them. Kerrick walked silently to the closed gate.
“I suppose I must say some words,” the voice floated over the wall. “Dearest God. As a good Christian woman I must ask for you to forgive this man who no doubt meant to do me harm and to forgive whoever hit him because she saved me.”
Saved her? Kerrick pressed the gate where the lock had been smashed. The lass stood alone amongst the weeds. She had the most beautiful fall of golden red hair. Curls cascaded down the back of her green gown.
She stared down at a pile of rocks. “So blessings on your soul, you horrid bastard.” She dropped another rock onto the heap. The wind shifted, and the familiar, tangy smell of death rolled into Kerrick.
“What the hell?” He pushed through the gate. “Who are ye?” The woman gasped, twirling toward him. “And what are ye doing in my castle?” He looked down at the rock pile where two boots stuck out from the end. “With a dead man?”
Before Abigail could form any type of response, a pail flew across the yard as if the wind had picked it up, hurling it toward the mountainous man standing at the broken gate. His arm, which held a sinister sword, came across, knocking the pail away.
“I didn’t kill him,” Abigail yelled, “but if you come closer, you might join him.”
The stubborn man took another step but stopped as smaller rocks from the pile shot toward him. “Stad!” he roared. He dove, rolling over the ground on his back, to leap up, grabbing a discarded wooden wheelbarrow to hold before his face. “I am Kerrick Hay,” he yelled. “Owner of this property and castle. Cease your throwing, woman!”
“I’m not the one throwing things,” she yelled. Abigail ran through the back door, slamming it shut. Her hand scrambled to turn the heavy key in the lock.
Abigail jumped back as the man slammed against the door.
Hide. The woman’s voice called loud and clear like the few times she’d spoken to her before. Abigail ran through the kitchen into the great hall. Hiding in a corner, she tried to slow her breath.
“Holy God,” she whispered. He was inside.
Bam! Bam! Bam! A series of things hit the walls in the kitchen.
“Stad, ye witch. This is my home, my home as a Hay. Cease your torment!”
Clang! That sounded like the iron poker.
“Who are ye? Rohaise the red? Is that who ye bloody are?” he called out. The specter had a name? “’Tis my castle ye haunt, banshee,” he yelled.
The sounds of attack ceased. If he were a Hay and owner of the castle, it wasn’t likely that he would just leave. He also probably hadn’t been sent by William. Abigail let out a long breath. But she wasn’t in the clear, not if he were bent on rape or murder. She had little defense apart from her fingernails, which were chipped and pointy from all the scrubbing she’d done over the last few days.
Heart pounding, Abigail listened to the man’s boots coming closer. Hands clenched, she held her chin steady. Confidence is your best defense. Her father’s words helped her stand strong.
The man’s gaze snapped around the hall, halting when he saw her. “Fok,” he said and raised his arms to block his face. After a moment, he lowered them, eyeing her suspiciously. “Are ye flesh and blood, lass?”
“Yes, but she will come back if you try to hurt me.”
He muttered something. “Who are ye? And why are ye in my castle?”