Cayden and Ciaran Clifton, the heroes of The Silkie's Call and The Silkie's Salvation, have parents who had to fight their own battles to be together. Last Tuesday, I began the story of Carrick and Catriona. This is the next installment:
Catriona grabbed her gown and drew it on. Just as she belted it, a splash behind her made her spin and see Carrick was no longer there. Her worried gaze scanned the water, but there was no sign of him. Before she could wonder at it, Fiona called to her again.
“Hurry, my lady. He is nearly here. Your father is with him.”
With one last glance at the sea, Catriona hurried up the path. Where had he gone? How could he just disappear? She wondered again what he was. She had certainly revealed herself to him, and if either her father or Camlin realized that, there would be hell to pay.
She crested the top of the bank just as her father and Camlin strolled into the clearing. Hiding her sandy feet beneath the hem of her robe, Catriona summoned a smile.
“Good morning, Father, my lord.”
“You are up and about early Lady Catriona.”
“On such a beautiful morning, my lord, how could I resist watching the sun rise over the inlet?”
He glanced frowningly at the group of seals playing around the rocks on the other side. “Beware. The waters contain many dangerous creatures.”
Catriona forced a light laugh. “My lord! You would have me believe the playful pups on those rocks are a danger?”
Camlin’s expression had narrowed on the seals. “Particularly those. They can be quite vicious.”
Catriona looked over her shoulder where several of the seals were squabbling with each other. Even as she watched, two big males flashed teeth at each other and slammed their heavy bodies together. She shivered. Although she’d often watched the seals from the time she was small until now, she had never seen two of the males go after each other in this way. It was more than play. Something about it made her concerns about Carrick surface once more.
“I sought you out, my lady, to see if you wished to ride with me?” Camlin’s voice was too smooth, its insidiousness jangling her nerves.
Catriona’s gaze shifted to her father. “You will be going with us, father?” she inquired, knowing that Fiona would not. Riding was the one activity in which her companion had never excelled and did not wish to take part.
Her father’s smile was just a little forced. “No, daughter. You will be safe with Lord Camlin, and it will give you both a chance to know one another better.”
But she didn’t want to know him better. Didn’t her father understand that? As much as she longed to blurt it out, she didn’t dare. Instead she smiled. “As you wish.”
Left with little choice, she at least rode out on her favorite mare, a large gray so pale she was nearly white. Camlin’s mount was a bay so dark as to be nearly black until you saw it in bright sunlight. The more she tried to stay in the open, the more he urged her toward trails that would take them deep into the woods.
When she tried yet again to steer back toward the rolling meadows, Camlin grasped hold of her horse’s headstall. The mare shied, but he kept his hold firm. When he turned his pale gaze on Catriona, his eyes glittered like shards of glass.
“No more games, my lady. You know I wish to be private with you, to speak with you and get to know you. Why do you evade me?”
Catriona looked pointedly at the hand he still had on her mare’s bridle. “Please turn loose of my horse, my lord.”
A sly look entered his narrow face. “Walk with me.”
This was the king’s nephew. She couldn’t defy him, yet she feared the sway he held over her people and most of all her. She feared what might happen to her father if she refused. She smiled.
“Of course, my lord Camlin.”
He led the way into the woods at the heart of the peninsula on which they lived. It was quiet in the forest, but Catriona knew the woods were alive with all manner of creatures, most of whom were friends to her people. Here, Camlin was the intruder. It gave her some measure of courage until she dared to glance up.
He watched her with such open avarice and lust in his eyes that she nearly stumbled. When he grabbed her elbow to offer support, it was all she could do not to flinch from him.
“Are you all right, my lady?” He sounded solicitous, and oh so correct, but something lurked beneath the surface. She didn’t dare try to read his thoughts. He was much older than she was and would know immediately what she attempted.
“Yes, thank you.”
He smiled, tucking her hand into his elbow. “You must be aware of why I have come to visit.”
She remained silent.
“My uncle, King Urien, desires an alliance with the people along this part of the coast. A marriage between the two of us would accomplish that purpose.”
“And do you always accede to your uncle’s wishes?” She couldn’t resist the question though she knew she shouldn’t ask it.
She felt a slight tensing of the muscles in his arm before he laughed. “I find it is always better to agree to Urien’s wishes. In this case he’s made them pretty plain, both to me and your father.”
She couldn’t mistake the emphasis he put on her father. Feeling as if she were being backed into a corner, Catriona said, “I see.”
“Then you understand the need for us to announce a betrothal?”
Sickness churned in the pit of her stomach. She knew she had to respond, but she simply could not make one word of agreement pass her lips. She nodded miserably and looked away, slowly blinking her eyes to rid them of the tears welling there.
He covered her hand with his free one. Catriona turned her head, realizing with a spurt of dismay that the horses were somewhere behind them, somewhere she couldn’t easily get to her mare.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I was when your father told me what a sheltered upbringing you’ve had. I find innocence such a seductive quality.”
Catriona gently tried to remove her hand from his arm, but his grip firmed.
“Now that we have agreed on a betrothal, I think it is time you left some of this maidenly reticence behind you. I’d like you to call me Camlin, just as I will call you Catriona.”
“As you wish.”
How could she get out of this? Get away? Her feelings of unease increased with every step they took. He led, or rather nearly pulled her, toward a glade surrounded by thick growth. Other than the sounds of birds and insects at work among the trees, it was quiet and more isolated than she should have allowed.
“What I truly wish,” Camlin purred near her ear, “is to see for myself just how sheltered your father has managed to keep you. Are you truly as pure as he would have me believe? As pure as he thinks? Or have you succumbed to some handsome youngling and allowed him to sip the nectar that should be mine alone?”
Catriona’s mouth thinned. This time she pulled her arm away, making no pretense of trying to be nice. “You take too much for granted, my lord.”
“Camlin,” he reminded silkily. “And I take nothing for granted. Our mating is the king’s wish.”
“Well it is not my wish!”
When she would have spun away, Camlin grabbed her upper arm in a biting grip. “That would be foolish. No one defies Urien without paying a price. In your case, your defiance could well cost you your father’s lands. Urien offers a marriage to me. Without that, he can simply take your father’s lands since there is no male to inherit.”
“You would force me?”
The sudden light of lust in his eyes told her much more than his words. “I prefer to think of it as your wisdom in realizing a strategic alliance.”
His gaze swept over her, lingering overlong on her breasts. “I gain a young, beautiful Faerie maiden for a mate, and your father gets to keep his life and his lands. Now, enough talking Catriona. I wish to sample what my obedience to my uncle buys me.”
He pulled her against him and held her fast while his mouth sought hers. When she tried to turn her face away, Camlin’s long fingers grasped her chin, and his mouth ground the soft flesh of her lips against her teeth.
This couldn’t be happening. Catriona wiggled her hands between them and tried to push him away, but he simply captured her fine-boned wrists and twisted them behind her back, holding her immobile with just one of his hands.
“Stop!” she spat at him. “I don’t want this. I don’t want you.”
“You will.” His teeth gleamed in the shadows of the glade. “And when I’m done we’ll know just how pure you are.”
With his free hand, he grabbed at the front of her gown. Catriona kicked out at him. As he stumbled back, her dress ripped, spilling her breasts to his hot gaze.
“I will have you, and you will say nothing.”
Catriona kicked out again. For just an instant, his grasp loosened enough she was able to spin away. Father forest, Mother earth, help me! She cried out silently. A path opened in front of her. With a lift of her skirts she ran, hearing the rustle and creak of leaves and branches closing behind her and the harsh echo of Camlin’s curses.
She knew the forest couldn’t stand long against Camlin. He was older and more powerful than any magic she might tap, but perhaps he would be delayed enough she might get away. She raced along the path that opened where there had been no tracks before. Breath sobbed in her lungs and her hair streamed behind her. Knowing how vital it was to keep her flight as silent as possible, Catriona stifled the sounds that fought to escape. If she was successful, she promised herself, she would give in to the need to release the fear now strangling her. Farther and farther behind her, she heard the curses and incantations of Camlin’s pursuit.
“Thank you,” she whispered to the woods and its creatures. When weariness forced her to slow down, she realized she had traveled far down the length of the peninsula, away from her father’s home and if she wasn’t careful, to a point where she would run out of options to escape should Camlin continue his pursuit.
She stumbled out of the woods and along a rocky slope. Taking a moment to get her bearings, she whirled in fright as she heard the sounds of horse’s hooves crashing through the forest. He was mounted, and gaining ground. Desperately, she gazed around her, searching for any place to hide she could find.
The crashing grew loud enough, she now heard the frightened blowing and snorting of the animal, no doubt being driven through a forest determined to thwart the pursuit. She stumbled forward and barely suppressed a cry when she tumbled into an opening in the earth in front of her. Her fall ended on dirt with the wind knocked from her. Knowing there was no time to lose, she crawled forward under a heavy lip of earth and curled into the smallest ball she could manage.
“I’m sure she came this way, my lord.”
The horses stopped nearby. Catriona recognized the voice of one of her father’s people.
“Check out that hole.” Camlin’s voice was cold, almost disinterested. “I believe she’s duped us and is even now returning to her father, no doubt with some tale about my cruel treatment of her.”
As footsteps approached, Catriona closed her eyes. It was over. Soft leather booted feet dropped to the earth nearly right next to her. She opened her eyes to find the stable lad who had handed the reins of her mare to her. As their gazes locked for an instant, she silently pleaded with him.
“Anything down there?” Camlin called petulantly.
“No, my lord. It’s nothing but a sink hole. Common enough around here where the limestone beneath is honeycombed.”
“Let’s head back. She is likely already at her father’s dwelling.”
The stable lad looked one more time into Catriona’s eyes as he said, “I’m sure you’re right, my lord.”
Thank you. Catriona mouthed the words, as she clutched the front of her torn gown together. He acknowledged her with the faintest of nods, and then he was clambering up the dirt wall and back out into the sunshine. The sounds of the horses’ hooves thudding on the earth faded, but still she sat curled against the warm, dry earth.
Once she no longer heard any sound, reaction set in. Catriona buried her face on her knees and released a small sob. She felt dirty, inside and out. As slowly as if she were near the end of her life, she crawled to the surface, cautiously peering over the edge. Still afraid he might even now watch her from the woods, she sank back to the bottom of the hole. She would wait until dark.
More to come next Tuesday... Leave a comment and let me know what you think.