Nicholas awoke with a jerk, caught between the nightmare and
wakefulness, his heart pounding, his body covered with
sweat. He struggled to open his eyes, found himself lying on
his stomach in someone's bed, his head on a pillow. His
right leg throbbed, burned. His head ached. His throat was
parched as sand, and a strange aftertaste lingered in his
From nearby came the swish of skirts, the sound of a log
settling in a fire, the scent of something cooking.
Where was he?
Through a fog he tried to remember. He'd been attacked. The
Frenchmen from the fort. He'd lost a lot of blood, had
ridden in search of help. The cabin. The woman.
Bethie was her name. Elspeth Stewart.
She'd helped him, cleaned his wound, cauterized it —
not altogether willingly.
Nicholas lifted his head, started to roll onto his side to
take in his surroundings, found he could not.
His wrists and ankles were bound to the bedposts.
Blood rushed to his head, a dark surge of rage, of dread.
"You're awake." Her voice came from behind him. "You must be
"You little bitch!" He pulled on the ropes, his fury and
dread rising when they held fast. "Release me! Now!"
"I–I cannae do that — no' yet. I've made broth.
It will help you regain—"
"Damn your broth, woman! Untie me!" He jerked on the ropes
again, outraged and alarmed to find himself rendered
powerless. Sharp pain cut through his right thigh.
"Stop your strugglin'! You'll split your wound open and make
it bleed again."
Infuriated, Nicholas growled, a sound more animal than
human, even to his own ears. He jerked violently on the
ropes, but it was futile. He was still weak from blood loss,
and the effort left him breathless, made his pulse hammer in
He closed his eyes, fought to subdue the slick current of
panic that slid up from his belly, caught in his throat.
She was not Lyda. This was not the Wyandot village.
His heartbeat slowed. The panic subsided, left
white–hot rage in its wake.
"Why did you do this? I told you I meant you no harm!" He
craned his neck, saw that she stood before the fire, ladling
liquid into a tin cup, a brown knitted shawl around her
"Is that no' what the wolf always says to the lamb?" She
carried the cup to the bed, sat. "Drink. It will help to
replenish your blood. Careful. 'Tis hot."
Tantalized by the smell of the broth and suddenly aching
with thirst, Nicholas bit back the curse that sat on his
Bethie held the cup to his lips, watched as he swallowed the
broth, her heart still racing. For one terrible moment,
she'd feared the ropes would break or come loose. She'd
known he would be angry with her, but she hadn't expected
him to try to rip the bed apart.
Truth be told, she feared him despite the ropes. Although
he'd given up for the moment, she could feel the fury coiled
inside him. She could see it in the rippling tension of his
body, in his clenched fists, in the unforgiving glare in his
eyes. He made her think of a caged cougar — spitting
angry and untamed. He was not used to being bested.
The arrogant brute! Did he imagine she would grant him warm
hospitality after the way he'd treated her? It served him
right to be bound and helpless!
As if a man of his strength were ever truly helpless.
Her gaze traveled the length of him as it had done many
times while he'd slept, and she found her eyes focused of
their own will on the rounded muscles of his buttocks where
the butter–soft leather clung so tightly.
Mortified, she jerked her gaze away, felt heat rise in her
cheeks. Her stepfather had always said she was possessed of
a sinful nature.
"More." His boorish command interrupted her thoughts. He
glowered at her through eyes of slate.
"Aye." She stood, hurried to the fireplace, ladled more
broth into the cup, uncomfortably aware that he was watching
"How long do you intend to keep me a prisoner?" His voice
was rough, full of repressed rage.
She walked back to the bed, sat, feigned a calm she did not
feel. "'Tis your own fault you lie bound. You cannae be
expectin' to be treated as a guest when you behaved like a
He pulled his head away, his gaze hard upon her, held up the
ropes that bound his wrists. "This isn't necessary."
"You threatened me, held your pistol to my head, forced me
to do your will and admitted to killin' two men. Do you
truly expect me to trust you?"
He frowned, his dark brows pensive. "I didn't mean to
"As I recollect, you seemed quite bent on frightenin' me."
"I didn't have time for social graces. My need was dire."
"So is mine!" She stood in a surge of temper, met his gaze.
"I cannae risk you regainin' your strength and then, when
you no longer need my help, hurtin' me or my baby or takin'
what is ours and leavin' us in the cold to starve! I dinnae
even know your name!"
For a moment he said nothing. "Kenleigh. Nicholas Kenleigh."
She repeated his name aloud.
"Now that we've exchanged pleasantries, Mistress Stewart,
you will release me."
"Nay, Master Kenleigh. I willna — no' just yet." She
lifted her chin. "You'll stay as you are till I'm certain
you pose no threat to me and my baby."
He gave a snort. "And how will you determine that?"
"Drink." She held the cup once more to his lips. "Perhaps I
shall have you swear an oath, a bindin' oath."
He drained the cup, looked up at her. "And if I am a
murdering liar, a man with no honor, the sort of man who
would harm a woman ripe with child, how would this oath
prevent me from doing whatever I want the moment you cut me
Bethie stood, walked back to the fireplace to refill the cup
once more, the truth in his words dashing her sense of
safety to pieces. "Are you sayin' I should never set you
free, Master Kenleigh?"
"No, Mistress Stewart. I'm saying that unless you plan to
keep me a prisoner forever and care for me as if I were a
babe untrained in the use of a chamber pot, sooner or later
you have no choice but to trust me."
She walked back to the bed, felt her step falter. In truth,
she hadn't thought about how or when she would release him
when she'd bound him to the bed. Nor had she considered what
keeping him bound would mean. She'd been thinking only of a
way to restrain him and deprive him of his weapons, and she
had accomplished that.
A babe untrained in the use of a chamber pot? Good heavens!
She reached the bed, sat, held the cup once more to his
lips. "Very well. I shall cut you free. But you shall first
swear to me by all you hold sacred that you willna do
anythin' to harm me or my baby or to deprive us of our
hearth and home."
He swallowed, licked broth from his lips. Then a queer look
came over his face. He stared at the tin cup, then gaped at
her. "You drugged me!"
How did he know? "I–I gave you medicine to ease your
pain — and make you sleep."
He laughed, a harsh sound. "You drugged me so that you could
bind me and take my weapons."
He stated it so plainly that Bethie could find no words to
soften the truth of what she'd done. She rested a hand
protectively on her belly, felt her baby shift within her.
"Y–you left me no choice."
Nicholas saw the defiant tilt of her chin, noticed the pink
that crept into her cheeks. He noticed, too, the way her
hand softly caressed the swollen curve of her abdomen as if
to calm the small life inside her.
What would he have done in her place?
He dismissed the question — and the irritating impulse
to defend his previous actions toward her. There was only
one rule in the wild — survival. He'd only done what
he'd felt he had to do to stay alive.
And so had she.