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Chapter One

Ceana McDonald stood at the top of the hill staring out over the moors. She held her shawl tight around her shoulders against the late autumn wind that whipped her auburn hair and drove the tears from her cheeks as quickly as they fell.


Ceana wiped her face quickly, embarrassed to be found in a moment of weakness, but Morag just took her hands and kissed them before embracing her older sister in a hug.

“Trying to memorize the look of the moors, were you?” Morag asked gently and then shook her head. “It won’t look so much different there. After all, you won’t be that far away.”

But Ceana just shook her head. “I might as well be across the ocean for where father’s sending me.”

She turned and walked away, her sister at her heels.

“I’m sorry,” Morag said. “I wasn’t trying to make light. I was just trying..”

“To cheer me up?” Ceana laughed bitterly. “Save yourself the effort. If you did cheer me up I’m sure my betrothed will beat the happiness out of me first chance he gets.”

Morag reached out and took Ceana by the arm, turning her round until they were facing.

“You don’t know that,” she said. “You’ve only heard….”

“Don’t try to soften this for me,” Ceana said. “I’m not the first woman from our clan to be married off over the border. We’ve heard the way they treat their women – like children.”

“Only when they’re unruly,” Morag said quietly.

Ceana frowned at this and stalked off, speaking over her shoulder to her sister as she did.

“Unruly or not, no woman should be taken over her husband’s knee,” she shouted, her words floating on the wind. “And I don’t intend to allow some brute to treat me that way.”

Morag was running after her again, exasperation etched into her face.
“How can you call Eadan a brute? You haven’t even met him yet.”

“He’s a Moncrieffe,” Ceana snapped. “I don’t need to meet him. I don’t want to meet him.” She’d reached the standing stones now and stopped, putting her face in her hands as she sank down beside one of them.

“If only da would understand,” she said with a sigh.

“You could try to talk to him again,” Morag offered.

Ceana snapped off a piece of heather and tossed it in the air, watching as the wind carried it away.

“Why? So I could hear him say the same thing again about how we’re weak since losing so many men last winter, about how the only way to keep from being overcome by the Moncreiffe is by making peace with them? And the only way to make peace is to offer the only thing he has left of value – his eldest daughter.”

“I could offer to go instead.” Morag’s voice was soft and halting, and Ceana knew she only made the offer because she knew her sister would never consider it.

“You know better than that,” Ceana said. “The only thing worse than going myself would be staying behind and worrying about you.”

“Oh Ceana.” Morag hugged her and Ceana returned the embrace fervently. All their life their father had told them how lucky they were to be the daughters of the chieftain and indeed she used to feel special. But now she was old and wise enough to know that the privilege came with drawbacks. With power came responsibility, and a woman’s place in such a system was tenuous. One hard winter and the pampered daughter became chattel, just another thing to be traded to get the clan through until spring.

Ceana stood and looked at the stone keep of the castle that had served as the only home she’d ever known. The effects of the last difficult winter had taken its toll; in several spots the stones had split and fallen, leaving gaps that had yet to be filled. In the tallest tower she could see light spilling around the little wooden shutter that covered the window to her room.

Ceara could see the window in her mind’s eye – her bed with the hand-carved posts and feather mattress, the embroidered tapestry on the wall, the fireplace kept alight by the few remaining servants and in the corner a dress form wearing the dress she would wear tomorrow when Eadan Moncreiffe came to fetch her for his own.

Her last night in her room; the thought of it made her heart ache to bursting. How many times had she walked through the low stone archway of her bedchamber and lay down without a second thought for the security and familiarity the room afforded.

And now she was about to leave it forever for another room, a room she’d have to share with a man who she knew by reputation would not be nearly so obliging of her willfulness.

“Come on.” Morag held out her hand and she took it, feeling yet another surge of emotion as she did. Would her new husband allow her sister to come visit? Or would he insist that he and his clan were all she needed and keep them apart?

Ceana kept her wrap tight around her as she went into the keep. The drafts inside were cold and from hidden corners she could hear the sound of a servant’s hacking cough, and she hoped that her marriage would truly bring the peace her father envisioned so he could put more money into caring for the clan and less into defenses against potential raids by the Moncreiffe.

“Daughters! There you are!” Bran MacDonald strode towards his daughters on trunk-like legs, a smile on his ruddy face. “Where have you been? I was about to send a man to look for you.”

“What’s wrong, da,” Ceana said. “Afraid I was going to ruin away before my new owner got here?”

“Ceana….” Morag’s tone was pleading.

“Mind your tongue, child,” her father said. “If there were any other way…”

“Yes, yes,” she said with a wave of her hand. “If there were any other way you’d not send me off.”

Her voice was weary as she leaned over to kiss her father. “I’m sorry. I’m just angry. I know it’s not your fault.”

But even as she choked the words out, Ceana knew she didn’t them. She did resent her father who during the fat years had failed to adequately prepare for harsher times. If he had, she thought, there would have been enough to ensure the food and protection the clan deserved. And she would have had a chance to marry a MacDonald man instead of some stranger from over the border.

“Thank you, lass. I always knew in the end you’d understand.” Bran MacDonald leaned over and  kissed his daughter’s face, his beard scratching her on the face as he did. She cold smell he strong odor of whiskey on his breath and turned away so he wouldn’t see the disgust on his face.

“I’ll bear this,” she thought, “not for him but because our quarreling vexes Morag so.”

“I have a surprise for you,” her father said. “A wedding gift of sorts.”

Ceana looked at him, surprised.

“Really? What?” she asked.

“I’m giving you Conn.”

Ceana’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding! You’re giving me your stallion?”

The MacDonald chieftain smiled. “You practically raised him, Ceana, and I know how much you love him. It’s only fair that you should have him.”

Her father’s voice was tender and for the first time Ceana realized she had been wrong; he really did regret sending her way. But Bran MacDonald was a stoic man and it was not his way to betray his sentimental side through tears or other displays of emotion. It was more his style to do just what he was doing now – make some sort of sacrifice as a way to show what he refused to reveal.

“Thank you, father,” she said quietly. It was something she could take comfort in, this gift. Even if she were about to be forced into a strange new life, at least this small piece of home could go with her. Perhaps her new husband would give her a mare so that Conn’s bloodline would live on.

But she digressed, and suddenly felt overwhelmed with emotion and very, very tired. So kissing her father and sister goodnight she made her way up the circular stone stair to her chamber.

Her room wasn’t as drafty as the keep, and the fragrant branches burning in the fireplace filled the chamber a fragrant smell. Ceana walked over to the dress form where the fine blue gown hung.

She reached out a finger to touch the sleeve. It was the finest things she’d ever owned, and she shuddered to think what her father had paid to ensure she’d make a good first impression on her betrothed, not that she would need it. Ceana was a beautiful young woman, with creamy skin, full lips, emerald green eyes and thick auburn hair that hung in waves down past her tiny waist.

She was short like Morag, but without the waiflike figure of her sibling. Ceana had the body of a woman, with full hips, a high, ample bust, full firm buttocks and legs made muscular by years spent riding her father’s horses around the moors.

Her father had warned her that life as the bride of the Moncreiffe chieftain would be different than what she was used to. “Women there are expected to be women,” he said. “I’m afraid I have spoiled you, allowing you to run wild as a hare about my lands. I trust you will leave childish pursuits behind and be the lady I raised you to be.”

Ceana had tried not to laugh. It had been her nurses who had raised her after her mother had died when her Morag was two. Ceana had been but three-and-a-half and had only vague recollections of her mother. After that she’d been passed on to a parade of nurses who were summarily dismissed by her father whenever they had displeased her.

Bran MacDonald had loved his wife and had grieved deeply when she died. He’d blamed himself for she’d taken ill when he was away and he’d come home to find her lying in state. He knew how much she’d loved the girls and seemed to think he could honor his wife’s memory by indulging them at every turn.

Morag, always practical and submissive,  had not taken advantage of her father’s permissiveness. But Ceana was different. She’d quickly developed a reputation for being impossible that she’d never been able to shake.

“Goodnight room,” she said as she lay in her bed, her head falling on the pillow one last time. For more than an hour she lay watching the fire, trying to remember how the flames looked on that last night and fell asleep with the flames that tucked themselves into their own bed of coals.


The day dawned cold and misty. Ceana opened the sash long enough to glance out and note how the weather reflected her mood.

Her father had told her that the Moncreiffe would come for her by the middle of the day, so she called for a rare morning bath since she didn’t know how long she would be traveling or how long it would be before she got another.

Usually she felt guilty asking for the servants to haul hot water, but this was her last day and no one seemed to mind indulging her.

Two servants came to attend her and by late morning she found herself staring at her image in the looking glass. The dress fitted her like a glove and as she took in the reflection of herself Ceana wished the way she felt inside matched the way she looked on the outside. The woman in the mirror was cool and regal looking. Inside she was a jumble of nerves and conflicted emotions.

A knock sounded at the door. It was Morag.

“You look beautiful.” Morag’s voice trembled and her eyes were red-rimmed. Ceana could tell her sibling had been crying.

“Do I?” she asked, starting to cry herself. “I don’t feel beautiful. I feel scared.”
“Do you think he’ll let you come visit?” Morag asked, clutching Ceana to her in a swift and sudden move.

“No,” Ceana said. “But I’ll do what I can to make sure he lets you come see me.”

Morag nodded and then both women turned at the sound of hoofbeats in the courtyard.

“They’re early,” Morag said, and the sister’s squeezed their hands tightly together as they turned to make their way from the room.

“You think he’s terribly old?” asked Ceana.

“He’s a chieftain,” Morag said. “Probably.”

“Wait. I want to see him before I go down.” The women stood at the landing over the main room in the keep, watching the group of men come in. A white-bearded portly fellow came in first and Ceana’s heart sunk to think of such a relic pawing at her. But just as her father approached him he moved aside and several other men came into view, including a tall, dark-haired man that her father moved to embrace.

Ceana’s eyes widened. His dress indicated that he was the chieftain, and although he was older than she by at least ten years he was handsome, with dark hair and skin less fair than was familiar.

Eadan Moncreiffe fixed her father with a ready smile as the two men broke their embrace.

“Bran,” he said. “It is good to see you. It’s been a long ride on this cold day. I hope that your daughter is as beautiful as it is rumored she is, for only the thoughts of her have kept me warm.”

“She will not disappoint, her father said and turned his face up towards the landing.

“Ceana, don’t stand there spying. Come down and meet your betrothed.”

Ceana frowned as she glanced at her sister and moved to make her way down the steps. As she did Eadan Moncreiffe came into better view and she could see him appraising her now as one would appraise a broodmare his eyes obviously obsessing her lines, her build the width of her hips.

“Say ‘hello,’” her father coaxed.

She looked at him. “No. If I’m to be taken away against my will the least this man can do is have the courtesy to speak first.”

Bran MacDonald reddened and the men attending the Moncreiffe laughed quietly behind his back. But their chieftain did not appear amused.

“Your daughter is spirited but obviously disobedient,” he said, addressing Bran rather than Ceana. “I trust you are aware that in my home such behavior will earn her a thoroughly striped bottom.”

The head of the MacDonald clan sighed heavily. “She has been warned,” he said. “But she is willful. Perhaps a gentle touch will…”

“..only make her worse,” Eadan said. “I’m not willing to take that chance.”

The tension was thick in the room and Bran MacDonald stepped between the two of them now.

“Well, once you two are better acquainted I’m sure you’ll find her more amenable. I’ve arranged a feast…”

“No.” Eadan Moncreiffe’s eyes were still on Ceana. “I would prefer to leave right away.”

“But my father’s cooks have been working all night!” Ceana protested, suddenly panicked at having to leave so soon. She was hoping to have at least two more hours with her family. But as she looked at her betrothed, she could see his eyes were hard and she knew he was leaving early just to prove he could.

“I believe given your behavior the sooner we get you away from her the better,” he said.

Ceana felt a flood of blood rush to her face and turned away so the Moncreiffe could not see how red her cheeks had become. The disadvantage of fair skin was that it made it difficult to hide her emotions, even when she wanted to.

“Am I to have time to say goodbye?”

“In the courtyard,” he said curtly and turned and as he did Ceana fixed her father with a helpless look only to see him turn away from her.

Morag handed Ceana her cloak and she took it woodenly as she followed her father dutifully from the castle. When she walked outside, her father was holding Conn and engaged in what looked like an intense discussion with the Moncreiffe chieftain.

“…fully capable of handling him and I want her to have him. Please…”

“Is something amiss?” she asked.

Her father sighed. “Your betrothed is simply concerned,” he said. “I never mentioned your skill as a horsewoman and he’s worried that you may get hurt riding Conn.”

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate for my future wife to ride such a large stallion,” he said. “I didn’t come here to bring back a huntsman, but the mother to my future children. I believe a gentler mount may be more appropriate.”

But even as he spoke, Ceana had pushed herself past her father to climb up on the horse. She jerked the reins hard and wheeled the animal around. Conn danced for a moment before coming to a standstill, his mane rising and falling as his black head bobbed impatiently up and down.

“Now you listen to me,” she said, her eyes fixed on Eadan. “My father gave me this horse as a gift and if you want me to go peacefully to your home I suggest you concede the matter. Or would you prefer to bring me to your castle draped over your saddle? For while that may be your style I assure you it will be far less trouble for both of us if you let me ride my own mount.”

Eadan looked at her, his eyes hard. Then he turned to her father. “Very well and thank you. May this union mark the beginning of better relations between our clans. Once we are settled I’ll send word of your daughter so that you will not worry.”

“Thank you,” Bran MacDonald said, “although I had not thought to be concerned. I know she’s in good hands.”

“She will be,” he said, and wheeled his own horse around, which Ceana was pleased to see was less fine and spirited than her own.


They were two miles from her father’s castle when Eadan Moncreiffe brought them all to a halt.

Dismounting, he walked over to Ceana’s horse and took the reins.


“Pardon me?” She shook her head in puzzlement.

“I did you a courtesy back there,” he said. “I should have thrashed you then but I didn’t want to cause upset to your father and his household. You however, are due an upset. Off. Now.”

“You can’t mean to be serious!” she said. “You mean to take my horse? What am I to ride then?”

“I believe you yourself determined that by your own words. What was it you said? That my style was to carry you to my castle draped over my saddle?”

Ceana felt indignation swell in her chest.

“And you mean to do it? Why? To posture in front of your men? Are you so insecure, Eadan Moncreiff, that you must interrupt our journey for such nonsense? Well I shall have none of it,” she said. “In fact, I shall not have you, regardless of what it means ot our clans.”

She jerked Conn’s head then and the horse raised itself on its hind legs, throwing her betrothed to the side. Turning the animal towards home, she kicked him hard. That was all the encouragement the horse needed. With a powerful lunge Conn leapt to a gallop, his great feathered legs eating up the ground with each powerful stride.

But behind her, Eadan Moncrieff was hot on her heels, and while his horse was slower, it had more stamina and soon he’d caught up with Conn and had the reins again. This time Eadan didn’t let go and when he swung himself off his horse he immediately grabbed Ceana by the waist and pulled her down off hers.

“What are you doing?” she screamed.

“What your father should have done to you already,” he said as behind him his men watched with mild amusement.

Ceana fought like a wildcat as Eadan dragged her over to a rock, where he sat down before pulling her over his knee.

“You shall not do this!” she cried, biting and clawing at his leg, but the heavy leather boots and thick pants he wore were more than enough protection against even the angriest reluctant bride, and he ignored her as he raised the hem of her fine blue dress to reveal her bare white bottom.

Eadan looked hard at his men as he did and they all looked away, knowing that their chieftain did not intend for them to see so much of his bride’s charms. But as Eadan turned his attention back to her bare bum the men glanced at each other, their expressions silently relaying the appreciation that one quick glance had afforded them.

“No!” she cried again as he restrained her arms, and then Ceana cried out in pain as the head of the Moncreiffe clan began to deliver the first spanking she’d ever received in her life.

His hand was large and broad and hard from work, for he was not a man to rule from a castle. His palm rose and fell, rapidly reddening her creamy white skin in the process. Soon Ceana was crying pathetically, and as ashamed as she was to give in to the pain she could not control herself or stop the tears as his blows shifted from the crest of her buttocks down to the lower half, assuring the sting of punishment would be felt long afterwards each time she sat down.

When he released her, she leapt to her feet, wiping tears from her eyes as she backed away.

“Bastard!” she cried. “Son of a filthy whore! You may take my horse! You may even beat me like a child! But if you think that is the way to get me into your bed you are wrong. I will never willingly go! Do you hear me! You’ll have to force me and you’ll know each time that I hate you!”

But instead of getting angry, Eadan Moncreiff only threw back his leonine head and laughed.

“Silly little bairn you are,” he said. “I’ve never had to force a woman, and I won’t start with you. You’ll marry me sure enough, but until you come around I’ll continue to amuse myself with the village wenches. In due time I’ll have you begging to come to my bed.”

And before she could protest further, the Moncreiff chieftain threw Ceana over his saddle – just as he said he’d do – and hopped up in the saddle behind her. And with his betrothed crying in front of her, he took the reins of her horse and pulled him along behind as the party made for his home across the border.

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