"Why are you seeking Malcolm?”
Annis didn’t answer.
“You won’t tell me even after I kept your secret?”
“Are you blackmailing me?” She gave him a suspicious look.
“No! I’m just curious.”
“Malcolm and I were…intimate.”
Hamish ground his teeth. Her pause suggested exactly how intimate. Hamish suspected how the tale would go.
“Did he force you?”
“No! I was willing. He’s very attractive, after all.”
“So some might think,” Hamish muttered, which received a grin. “Was there a child?”
“No. But that’s irrelevant. He promised me marriage before I gave him my virginity. Then he said the time wasn’t right and he rode past without stopping every time. When I heard you talking, I knew where I could find him.”
Annis took Hamish’s hand. “So I suppose I did come here because of you.”
It was poor consolation.
“Are ye going to beg McCrieff to marry you?”
She frowned. “I have more pride than that. I wanted him to understand what he had done to me and apologise. But he ignored me.”
Hamish bit back the retort that it was a McCrieff she was thinking of, so what did she expect. He’d never promised marriage, but tried to ignore the nagging guilt that he had bedded women with as little regard.
“What would ye do if you won fair Fiona?” he asked.
Annis’ eyes narrowed in thought. “Perhaps I’d suggest we lived as sisters without men using us for their own amusement or advancement. Maybe she’d like that, too.”
Hamish couldn’t disagree. After all, that was entirely his motive for planning to marry Fiona. His stomach filled with rocks.
“Aye, well, perhaps the husband Fiona gets will be doing it through duty, too. It isn’t just women who are forced into choices they’d rather not make.”
Annis gave him a stern look. “And is that any better? Two people unhappy instead of one?”
Hamish couldn’t answer. “No. But be sensible. It would be wonderful to marry for love, but how many people get that? Especially in my position?”
“Love? That’s a powerful word,” Annis scoffed.
“It’s a powerful feeling.” One Hamish suspected was growing on him with every moment in Annis’ company.
She shook her head with a soft laugh. “Hamish, you’re a romantic soul, but men like you bed women like me and never marry us. A brave man would choose the woman he wanted, whoever she was.”
There was challenge in her eyes, and Hamish was consumed with the urge to meet it head-on.
He lifted her to her feet, conscious that now she was in his arms he was unwilling to relinquish her and realising that was all the more reason to let her go.
“Can ye walk?”
She nodded and withdrew. They walked slowly back to the castle at arms’ length.
Inside, one of MacNeish’s men approached Annis.
“Lad, you’ll be up before dusk. Do you have your stave to hand?”
“Aye. I’ll get it.”
Annis smiled at Hamish’s raised eyebrow. “I’m facing Malcolm.”
“After what happened earlier? Don’t be so foolish.”
She pressed a finger to his lips.
“I want one chance to humiliate him. I’m quick. Keep my secret. Please.”
He couldn’t refuse. Annis limped away, leaving Hamish feeling sick to the stomach.
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