Spray blinded Hamish, but years of rowing around Castle Lochmore’s headland had been excellent training. One rower turned back before the rocks, unable to escape the tide. As Hamish turned behind the rocks, he felt the oar pulled violently and almost lost it. Grimacing, he tugged it to safety.
Malcolm was not so fortunate. He was caught between the swirl of the whirlpool and the rocks, and his oar was sucked out of reach. He leaned out and a sudden surge jerked his boat, tipping him overboard. He surfaced with a gasp.
Only this side of the strait was dangerous. If Malcolm clambered over the rocks he’d be safe until someone could rescue him.
“Swim for the rocks,” Hamish called.
Either Malcolm did not hear or ignored Hamish’s instruction, but he began swimming after Hamish. Hamish swore and turned his boat against the tide until it was close enough for him to lean over and heave Malcolm in.
“I should have let you drown,” he muttered as they watched the other two boats pass them.
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because you’ll always know I saved you. And that the woman you abandoned is Countess of Lochmore.”
He grinned as understanding crept over Malcolm’s face, then rowed for shore.
By the time they arrived, a sandy-haired man was being presented to Douglas MacNeish as victor. Malcolm loped off alone. Hamish sought Annis, who flung herself into his arms. He held her close, enjoying the way her slender body pushed against his as if she would never let him go. He vowed she would never have to.
At dusk they sat by the loch, drinking wine.
“I’m sorry you didn’t win,” Annis said.
“I’m not. I beat McCrieff and now he owes me his life. That’s worth a lot.” Hamish drank his wine. “And I didnae want to marry the lass.”
“But you need a wife.”
“I do. And I’m going to return home with one.”
He reached for her hand.
“Even after what you know I did with Malcolm?”
“And what you did with me,” he reminded her. “No other woman makes my heart leap as you do.”
He drew her into his arms.
“A clan chief doesn’t need a silly girl who will sit meekly waving a scarf around. He needs a woman who is brave and strong. A wife who will defend his home when he’s away and order Angus to do as he’s bid. Someone strong enough to bear his children.”
“Children, you say?” Annis smiled.
“Aye. Two at least. Someone will need to carry on the Lochmore name. You’ll want someone to inherit your tasteless knife, I’m sure. John would be a fine name, don’t you think. For the first.”
Annis bit her lip, and Hamish felt a rush of anticipation at the prospect of many nights trying to get her with child.
He grinned. “Then Ewan after my father. Then we’ll see.”
“We’ll see,” she agreed.
She wrapped her arms about him and they fell back, laughing, onto the plaid.
The night was warm and there was no better time to start trying.
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