She sighed and gave in. “Well, Harold found Threcher. He also found my belongings and managed to recover some of them. He used what I am wearing now to tempt the horse so he would follow. It seems my horse likes purple. Threcher is nearly two hands taller than that sad thing Harold rides, so when they got here, Harold got them across the moat and used the two horses like stair steps to get over the wall and jump down. Unfortunately, he brought my clothing inside with him and Threcher was having none of it.”
“I would prefer you wear my plaid.”
“I know, but I worry the plaid will come undone when I ride. If it did and Threcher stepped on it...”
“I see your meaning.” A shiver ran down his spine just thinking about what could happen. He kissed her hard and then headed for the loch to bathe.
She watched him take the clean clothing one of the women handed him and sighed. “I believe I like kissing very much -- but that is all.”
Kevin invited his twenty most trusted men and their wives to join them for the evening meal. Half his men were unmarried and he wondered just how much competition Justin would have. Two hours before, the cooks began to prepare the meal, men carried water up for his wife’s bath and women brought bouquets of flowers to adorn the great hall. Anna hadn’t changed a thing, but no matter, he was convinced she would once she felt it was her home. He wanted everything to be perfect for his surprise and so far, it was.
All they had to do was wait for her and he couldn’t keep from glancing toward her door every thirty seconds or so. He reminded Thomas one more time to tell everyone not to notice when her mother and sister came in. Then he saw the annoyed look on Thomas’ face.
At last, her door opened and she walked out. She couldn’t have been more becoming. She wore his plaid and moved along the balcony with such grace it took his breath away. On her head, she wore a blue scarf the same color as her eyes that hung down her back to her waist.
When she started down the stairs, she noticed how quiet it had gotten, so she stopped and wrinkled her brow. She tilted her head to one side and asked, “Is something amiss?”
“Nothing could be amiss tonight, I would not let it be,” her husband answered, heading to the bottom of the stairs to meet her.
Thomas leaned closer to Katie, “I did not even guess how bonnie she would be.”
“That’s right; you have been away while she was healing. She does not know how beautiful she is either. She keeps asking why the men stare at her. She thinks it is her lack of hair, but Kevin will soon notice and have a few heads.” Katie watched her brother kiss his wife and cheered with the rest of the gathering.
“Does that mean you did not miss me, Lass?” Thomas asked.
Katie looked at the gleam in his eye and blushed. Too soon, Kevin and Anna were standing in front of her and it was her duty to keep talking until the surprise arrived. So she talked…and talked...until blessedly, Kevin interrupted.
“Anna, turn around.”
“No, I want to hear what your sister has to say.” But Katie stopped talking. Then she heard a small voice behind her say, “My Anna.” She spun around so fast, she nearly toppled over. “Rachel?” She ran to her mother and soon, mother and daughter were hugging, kissing, and nearly squishing Rachel between them.
“My Anna,” the little girl announced again.
Anna moved away and fully intended to take Rachel out of her mother’s arms, but the child reached for Justin instead. He was more than happy to take her and lifted her high in the air until she giggled.
Anna wanted to introduce her to Katie, but her mother turned to look at the closed door. The room grew quiet and the guests parted when Catherin slowly moved toward it. Anna motioned for the guard to move away and followed her mother.
Catherin paused and for a very long time she stared at the handle. Her hand was shaking, but she finally managed to get a firm hold on it and began to pull. It was a heavy door and Kevin thought to help her, but Anna shook her head. Catherin added her other hand and when the door opened, a look of sheer joy crossed her face. She let the guard hold the door open for her and headed out.
In the light of a full moon, the dark courtyard was a dusty blue when Catherin walked straight across it until she reached the raised drawbridge and stopped. Behind her, Anna and all thirty-one guests followed. With Kevin’s nod, the bridge began to lower and as soon as it was secure, Catherin glanced back, spotted Rachel sitting on Justin’s shoulder and then started across.
“Is she going back to England?” Justin whispered to Kevin.
“If she is, it seems we are all going with her.”
Catherin turned toward the meadow where Threcher was grazing. When they reached the crest, the crowd stopped to watch. Anna hurried to catch up, and without a word, took her mother’s hand and made her stop. Then she let go, moved away, reached both of her arms out with her palms up and slowly began to spin. In a few seconds, her mother did the same.
“What are they doing?” asked Kevin.
Katie answered, “They are tasting freedom. Anna did the same thing when we finally let her out.”
Athena said, “A MacGreagor did this to them and it will be MacGreagors who set it right.” Everyone nodded.
Anna grabbed her mother’s hand and pointed. The horse was turning around and around and when she saw it, Catherin burst out laughing. Soon mother and daughter were laughing so hard, they had to sit down in the meadow.
Katie asked Rachel if she was hungry and when the child nodded, she took her off Justin’s shoulder and led the guests back inside. That left only Kevin and Justin to watch the women play in the meadow like children, and Kevin wondered if he would ever get them to come back inside. He began to doubt it even more when Catherin wanted to spin again and Anna joined her. Then he wondered if the women even knew he and Justin were there.
Dizzy, Anna and her mother had to hug each other to keep from falling and finally sat down in the grass. Unaware the breeze would carry their words to the men, they began to talk.
“Mother, there are good people here. They are so kind and loving; I hardly know what to do. I have thanked them so often I am certain they have grown weary of hearing it.”
“Your husband and Justin are kind, but...”
“I believe my husband is a very good man. I love him, Mother. I realize I know little of love, but my heart leaps when he is near me. Did you love my father at first?”
“Anna, I was twelve. What could I have known of love?”
“Twelve,” Justin breathed. “That scunner!”
“Am I too young to know of love?” Anna asked.
Catherin brushed a strand of Anna’s hair out of her daughter’s face. “At seventeen, you are twice as wise and three times more brave than I will ever be. You must be the one to decide if you are old enough to love.”
Kevin shifted his weight. “Good heavens, her mother is not much older than I am.”
“Mother, will you stay for just a little while and learn about these people?”
“I am afraid.”
“I know, I am terrified too.”
The women were looking at the men now and Kevin’s mind was racing. He knew Catherin was frightened, but Anna hadn’t seemed afraid since that first day when she wouldn’t give him her hand. What terrified her?
“I am thinking of Rachel,” Anna was saying. “I want to see her in a home where there is love and joy, not fear.”
Catherin sighed, “I want that too.”
“If you leave, where will you go?”
“I do not know. I will never go back to that place of torment and unhappiness.”
“Neither will I.” Anna leaned over and put her head on her mother’s shoulder.
Catherin hugged her daughter, but didn’t seem willing to take her eyes off the men. “How will we escape?”