ANNA PAGE 15

            Clean Romance you can give your mom. Suitable for ages 14-96

    
                                                                                                                 
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Athena laughed at the giant she once called husband and folded her arms to show she wasn’t one bit afraid of him. “Aye, you could give me a child. I will have Rachel.”

He didn’t look at all surprised. “So the filthy girl told you about her sister.” He shifted his attention then to the one he assumed was Kevin -- the one in the middle. “We have been expecting you. I hope you brought an army, you will need one.”

The woman servant couldn’t understand a word they said, but she did recognize Rachel’s name. She couldn’t help herself when she looked at the Highlander nearest her and asked, “Anna?”

“Silence,” the Baron roared.

For the first time in years, she ignored him and asked again. “Anna?” She stared at Thomas hoping for some sign that Anna was alive. When she didn’t get it, she caught her breath. “Dear God, she is dead.”

“She is not dead,” Kevin finally said in perfect English.

The Baron dared to smile. “Of course not. If she were, she would not have been able to tell him about Rachel.”

“I will have Rachel,” Athena demand.

He started to slap Athena aside when all three giants took a step forward at the same time. They were a little too close for comfort now and he reached for his sword. Then he thought better of it and folded his arms. “Rachel means nothing to me, nor does Anna, I only wanted a son. You may have them both -- if you can find Rachel.”

Athena turned toward Kevin and gave him a slight nod.  Then she walked to the woman servant, took the platter of pastries out of her hand and set it down on the table. The servant was more than willing to follow Athena out of the room, although she made a wide berth around the Baron to keep out of his reach.

*

Upstairs, Anna’s mother was dressed. She didn’t really know why she bothered since she would not be bathing or seeing either one of her daughters today. Yet it was her habit, so she took care to wash her face and brush her hair. Her hair wasn’t as dark as Anna’s and they didn’t look a lot alike, but it was obvious Anna had her blue eyes.

There was one big difference. Anna’s mother had hideous scars, especially the one around her ankle where the chain and the lock often rubbed against it. At least the chain was long enough to allow her to walk about the room. It was the only exercise she was allowed.

She heard loud voices downstairs, grabbed the chain and rushed to the window to see if anyone was there. The courtyard was empty. In fact, it was uncommonly empty of even her husband’s guards or their mounts. The baron must have sent them away, she thought, but Catherin hadn’t heard it. Next, she looked up the hill. Sometimes Harold would wave from there and she would wave back to signal she was well. He wasn’t there. She wondered what he would do if ever she didn’t wave back.

She tried to listen to the voices, but the sounds were muffled and she couldn’t make out but a few words. Then she heard a woman say something about Rachel. Catherin was suddenly terrified and covered her mouth to keep from crying out. She thought she had already accepted the idea that both her daughters were dead, but in truth, she wasn’t prepared at all.

It surprised her when she heard the key go in the lock and saw the door handle turn. She held her breath and watched as the door slowly opened, but it wasn’t her husband as she expected. Instead, a tall woman wearing a plaid stepped inside and raised a finger to her mouth to signal she should remain quiet.

Behind the woman stood a large man wearing a matching kilt and a white shirt. He watched her for a moment and then took a step inside. He paused to make sure she wasn’t going to get upset and once he was assured, he walked to her and smiled.

His interest seemed to be in the chain, Catherin realized, and when he reached out his hand, she gave him the part she held in her hand. His eyes were kind, and when he took her elbow and urged her to move closer to the bed, she went willingly. The man let go of her arm and took hold of the chain with both hands. To her amazement, he flexed the muscles in his arms and easily pulled one of the links apart. She and Anna had tried to do just that countless times and couldn’t get it to budge.

Suddenly, she was free, filled with overwhelming joy, and started to speak, but the woman reminded her to be quiet. The man handed the end of the chain back to her, leaned down and scooped her up in his arms. As quiet as a mouse, they slipped down the stairs, through the sitting room and out the front door. He continued to carry her across the courtyard and she was so grateful, she wrapped her arm around him and kissed the side of his neck. Justin smiled. He carried her through the gate, around the corner and further still, before he finally stopped and put her down.

Anna’s mother had tears in her eyes and she could barely see the man standing before her. It wasn’t until she spotted the crown on his head that she realized it was the King of England. She tried to curtsy, but he took hold of her arm and wouldn’t let her.

“Catherin, how will you ever forgive me?” The king took the chain out of her hand, knelt down and raised her skirt just enough to see her ankle. He grimaced, closed his eyes, and swore under his breath. It took him a moment to realize the woman from the Highlands was handing him a key. As quickly as he could, he opened the lock and let the chain fall away.

“My daughters?” Catherin asked, wiping the tears off her cheeks with the hem of her skirt.

“We have not yet found Rachel, but we will. My men will search every house until they find her.” He stood up, patted her arm and smiled. “Anna is fine.”

“He beat her, I heard him.”

“I know, but she is healing.”

*

Kevin knew he wasn’t going to get Rachel’s location from the scunner, so he let Stoneham stand there, threatening and insulting everyone and everything he could think of. Kevin wasn’t even listening. He could still hear Anna’s words -- If I moved my head too far, he would cut my throat. -- The thought of how frightened she must have been made Kevin’s blood boil. Then he forced himself to remember the feel of her head on his chest so he could calm down.

Stoneham seemed to be convinced he could handle all three men without breaking a sweat. Kevin would have liked proving him wrong, but he promised the king he wouldn’t kill the man -- at least not yet.

“Stoneham,” the voice behind him boomed.

Stoneham spun around. “Your Majesty?” He started to bow, but the king shoved him aside and walked into the dining room. Behind Stoneham, ten of the king’s well-armed men stood with swords drawn glaring at him and the color began to drain out of Stoneham’s arrogant face.

The king walked to the Highlanders and turned to face Stoneham. Had he realized how puny he looked next to the giants, he would have reconsidered. “Something quite remarkable has happened,” the king began, “I seemed to have misplaced two full count of men and do you know where I found them? Right here surrounding your property. They were under the mistaken belief I had ordered them to protect you from an expected MacGreagor attack.”

Stoneham was starting to get nervous and the king was glad of it when he walked around the Highlanders to the window, looked out and then turned back to face him. “I sent them away. Would you like to see for yourself?” Stoneham didn’t move. “I thought not. Thank God, I will not have that worry. A war with the Highlands is not something I would enjoy just now. When you are dead, I must remember to give this property to a more sensible man.”

The king retraced his steps, noticed the glare Stoneham was giving Kevin and the one Kevin was returning. “Should I let the MacGreagor have you? I hear his father let you live, but I doubt the son will be so generous. By the way, you have committed bigamy. The church frowns on bigamy, you know. I met your first wife a few days ago and she has impressed me greatly.

Would you believe she walked right into my court unattended and when one of my guards tried to stop her, she broke his arm? I was forced to hear what she had to say while I still had a command left. I am thinking of asking her to teach my men a thing or two and perhaps help us improve our Gaelic.”

 “She is not my wife, she is a liar,” Stoneham muttered.

“I see.” The king spotted the pastries on the table and walked over to examine them. “Invite your other wife to join us. She is a lovely woman and I would enjoy having tea and a pastry with her. As I recall, she has a smile that can make the birds sing.”

“She is...unwell.”

“Oh, I doubt that. Call up to her and see if she will come down.” When Stoneham stalled, the king called up instead. “Catherin, I demand you come down at once!”

 She didn’t hesitate for a moment. Catherin went back inside, threaded her way through the king’s guard, walked into the room and turned to face her husband. Athena was right behind her and with as much hate in her eyes as she could manage, Athena dropped the lock and chain at Stoneham’s feet.

The king broke off a bite of pastry, savored the taste and swallowed. “Tell me, Stoneham, to which of these lovely ladies should I give the pleasure of cutting you in half?”

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