“Dinna leave the castle,” Ian MacBean, interim chief of the clan, demanded from the bailey, armed to the teeth for battle.
Fiona MacBean stared hard at her brother, taking in the way his lips were pressed so tight they were nearly white. His red hair, the same fiery color as her own, was tucked beneath his feathered cap which was set at a jaunty angle, softening the hard lines of his face and the determined furrow of his brow.
Fiona tossed her hair back with a slight shake of her head. There was no way in hell she was staying in the castle when there was vital information to be gathered and intelligence to be shared. Hell, the reason Ian was even headed off to war was because of her, which made her feel doubly guilty.
Ian’s departure and subsequent insistence she stay home were rooted in a message she’d delivered several months prior to her brother Gus. It’d informed them that their baby sister Leanna’s betrothed had hightailed it to the eastern shores of America with the dowry Gus had so graciously imparted on him early. A hefty amount of coin they couldn’t afford to lose. Bastard.
The news was so mortifying to their clan that they’d kept it mostly secret, telling those who needed to know that Gus had escorted Leanna at the summons of her betrothed so the two of them might settle somewhere in Maryland, rather than that she and Gus were chasing him down. Which meant that Ian was now in charge of everyone in their clan—including her.
“Fiona, I mean it. Gus entrusted your safety and that of the clan to me while he’s gone.”
Ian didn’t understand. He never had. And he’d spent entirely too much time looking up to Gus for answers rather than forming any of his own. Her work as a spy courier was as integral to their support of Prince Charlie as his work on the battlefield.
A shiver of fear raced down her spine. Her only consolation about Ian going to war was that he’d be with Jenny Mackintosh, Laird of Clan Mackintosh and charmingly named the Colonel by Bonnie Prince Charlie after she’d raised arms and her men succeeded in warding off the redcoats who wanted to take the prince’s head.
It wasn’t that Ian wasn’t skilled at fighting. If anything, he was a damned beast on the field, but Fiona would feel better knowing he was with people she trusted, not some fools that might turn tail and run when the going got tough.
“Fiona?” Ian let go of his horse’s reins and marched toward her. Too late, she realized how much she’d been in her own head rather than paying attention to her brother.
He reached her, pressing his hands to her shoulders, his deep-green eyes piercing into hers. “Please, for the love of all things holy, bloody well stay here. I canna have ye running about the countryside when I’m preoccupied with war.”
“I’ve already been running about the countryside, and ye know it.”
Fiona knew how to protect herself. Had made it her business to learn to fight against men bigger than her, so she’d not be made a victim. She was well versed in the use of daggers and knew which spots to hit to fell a man. The pins in her hair were also sturdy and sharp enough to inflict damage. More often than not, she could be found with daggers hidden horizontally in the layered leather of her belt, as well as in her boots. One could never be too prepared.
“Aye, but at least then I could come to your aid if ye need me.” He pressed his lips together, and the recollection of how close they’d come to being attacked by dragoons over the years sat heavy between them. “I canna save ye if I’m in a bloody battle.”
She didn’t need saving, but she wasn’t about to make him worry about her while he had dragoon pistols pointed at him. Better to placate her brother now and apologize later.
“Aye, fine, Ian. I’ll stay put. But ye better come back, else I’ll be angrier than a stuck pig that ye made me rot in this keep while ye went away to have all the fun.”
Ian sighed with great relief and rolled his eyes. “I’ll come back, I promise.”
“Good. Because if ye die, I swear I’ll kill ye all over again.”
Ian laughed at the line the four siblings had been repeating to one another since their first encounter with dragoons in the woods so long ago.
“Until we meet again, wee sister.”
“I’m older than ye.” Fiona slugged him in the chest, not hard enough to hurt.
Ian grinned. “But ye’re still smaller.” He danced backward away from her, out of reach of her swinging hands.
“I’ll spare ye the energy now, because we both know the Colonel is going to run ye ragged, but when ye return, Brother, we’re going to spar.”
Ian pointed at her and nodded. “Ye can count on it.”