Ethne’s genuine and caring nature makes her invaluable to her brother as his son’s caretaker, but he and his wife treat her as little more than their servant. When she learns their tribal leader would use her chaste status for his own purposes, Ethne plans to escape and reluctantly accepts the help of Lachlann—a handsome pilgrim she only just met at the local faire.Despite her independent spirit, Ethne feels drawn to Lachlann. Her instincts say his intentions are honorable, but can she trust him with her heart?Raised by his godfather with few clues to his family’s past, Lachlann values his freedom and the brotherhood of his highlander kin. Disguised as a pilgrim on a mission for the priory, he encounters Ethne, a warm, intelligent maiden whose courage in the face of a loveless marriage awakens an intense need to protect her.Unfortunately, Ethne is one of the very people he must deceive to explore the cave system containing clues to the lost treasure he seeks. But he cannot abandon her to an uncertain fate—or deny the simmering tension between them.With religious prejudice running high and both of them facing tests of loyalty, Lachlann and Ethne may realize the only way to fight for their futures is to surrender... to each other.
From within the chapel, one of the nuns came alongside the priest. She also watched Lachlann, but with an anxious expression. That was enough to convince him to do the “proper thing,” leastwise as far as the good priest was concerned.
With quite a bit of reluctance, Lachlann retraced the path back to the chapel. Guilt made his steps heavier than they needed to be, and the priest’s dark expression seemed to confirm his first impression.
“Good day to ye, Lachlann,” the nun spoke first. “And how are ye this fine day?”
Surprised by her cheery tone, he accepted the small hand she extended, bowing slightly. “Hearty and healthy, and how are ye, sister?”
Her eyes widened with surprise. “Do ye not remember me?”
“This is Sister Elizabeth from the priory.” Father Michael looked down his nose at the two of them. “She assures me ye’ve met. That ye’ve even been there and helped them out on occasion.”
The priest’s tone carried so much doubt that Lachlann almost laughed at the man’s bad opinion of him, but quickly swallowed the urge.
“Of course. Sister Elizabeth.”
A small woman, slightly younger than himself, and always a gracious hostess. They had enjoyed her company.
“Ye’ve only just missed Niall and Aldred,” he said.
He, Niall, and Aldred had gone to the priory often over the years to help with upkeep—cropping and herding, filling in the gaps along the roof, digging a new well. Mayhap as a way of penance for some of their foolishness, but they hadn’t been there recently.
Her lips transformed into a genuine smile. “Oh. Please do tell Aldred I said hello. As always, I’ve kept him in my prayers.”
“I can bring ye to him,” Lachlan said with more enthusiasm than he intended, even turning toward the general direction of the stables as he spoke. Idly chatting with the priest, who always found him lacking, was not how he wanted to spend his day.
“Many thanks, but ’tis ye I wish to speak with.”
Her piercing gaze held his, and his stomach dropped at the uncharacteristic insistence. Was he to be reprimanded by her as well? No doubt she’d been one of the nuns lined against the wall, probably listening to the Father’s admonishment, but politely pretending not to hear it.
“I am returning to Restenneth shortly, but I had hoped to enlist yer help before I do,” she said. “The three of ye.”
“As always, we would be happy to help in any way we can, though I admit Niall’s uncle keeps us quite busy in battle as of late.”
So much so that when they weren’t living off the land, sleeping wet and cold on the ground, they weren’t sure what to do with themselves.
“I was hoping ye’d say that.”
She seemed ready to burst with excitement and his heart quickened.
“Do ye have such exciting labor?” He asked half-jokingly.
“Ah, no.” Sister Elizabeth laughed. “But we did find something that will interest ye. Completely unexpected. The sisters and I have a journey we need the three of ye to make on our behalf.”
“A journey.” The idea immediately intrigued Lachlann. This might be the very thing they needed to escape Garnait’s grasping clutches and ceaseless wars. And as long as he could convince his friends to go… Lachlann smiled. He had no doubt that he could do just that. “Tell me more.”