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CHAPTER ONE
Scotland, Inner Hebrides – 1587

 

The bastard was finally going to kill her.

Sorcha trembled inside her wool mantle as icy wind thrashed strands of brown hair over her face. The rope binding her wrists stung, and her battered legs ached where Hector had pushed her down the steps of the keep. But none of it compared to the fear clutching her insides. She craned her neck over her shoulder and gawked wide-eyed at the white waves pummeling the base of the cliff.

“Ye destroyed my crops with hail, infested the clan’s meat with maggots, and set the outbuildings afire. ’Tis August, yet snow blankets my land.” Hector pressed her closer to the pebbled edge with his dark glare and intimidating size. He stood a full head taller and easily outweighed her by ten stone. “And now this.” He held up his sword arm covered with lesions of oozing puss. “Ye give me a whore’s disease!”

“I did naught, m’lord. I swear it,” Sorcha pleaded between chattering teeth. She considered reminding him that he hadn’t come to her bed in over two years, but knew ’twas useless to defend herself. Hector had blamed her for every misfortune that befell Clan Ranald since he’d taken her to wife four years past.

“Ye lying bitch!” He struck her hard across the face with the back of his hand.

Sorcha twisted at the waist and landed on her knees and elbows. The pain stinging her cheek was soon forgotten when Hector kicked her in the side. She heard her rib crack just before an unbearable streak of pain shot through her very core. She couldn’t fight, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. The coppery tinge of blood spread over her tongue as she rolled onto her stomach. She spit a string of crimson and pulled herself forward by her bound hands.

“Think ye I dinnae hear ye chant your spells in the old language?” Hector wrenched her back to her feet.

If she were half the witch he accused her of being, then she might possess the power to save herself. She wished Da hadn’t ousted Grandmum from the clan before she taught Sorcha the Pagan ways.

“Ye have cursed me and my clan for the last time,” he bellowed over the howling wind.

“If ye kill me,” she panted through the pain, trying to draw upright to stare him in the eye, “my kin will avenge me.” ’Twas a false threat, but she was desperate.

A deep throaty chortle burst from Hector’s pocked face. “Your da died before naming a tanist to reign in his stead. The MacNeils have no chieftain, no bloodline, save for a sixteen-year-old girl. And your sister will be easy to break.”

Sorcha’s heart lodged in her throat. She tried to shake the horrid images of what Hector would do to her sister, but they erupted in her mind’s eye like a nightmare. Peigi would be powerless to defend herself against Hector and his men.

“As soon as I send ye to your Otherworld, I’ll be claiming the Isle of Barra as my own.”

Sorcha looked to the gray sky and pleaded with the king of her gods. Thou Christ of the cross, snatch me from the snares of this evil demon so I might protect my kin.

A bird cawed overhead, circling them. ’Twas a falcon—a white falcon. Mayhap the Goddess Cliodna had come to escort her to the afterlife.

“Fare thee well, Sorcha of Barra. I’ll see ye in Hell.” Hector raised his foot high and drove the sole of his boot into her stomach, sending her reeling over the edge of the cliff.

Shock numbed her insides. She wanted to hold onto something, to scream, but she could do neither. Her body seemed to fall faster than her soul, and for one breathtakingly frightening moment, she felt as though her physical being separated from her spirit.

Through it all, she kept her eyes fixed on that white falcon following her downward to her death.

 

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