I hate her, and I’m going to make her suffer.
The thought consumed Ronan Sinclare day and night, and that hatred grew stronger with each passing day. Carissa, daughter of Mordrac the Barbarian, had robbed him of everything: his family, love, and life itself. She was the last obstacle to his returning home. Once he was done with her, he could finally go home, or could he?
Ronan paced the river’s edge like a caged animal. That was how he felt—like an animal. There was nothing left of Ronan of the clan Sinclare, fourth son of Tavish and Addie Sinclare, brother to Cavan, Artair, and Lachlan.
Ronan stopped his pacing with a guttural laugh and a shake of his head. He looked down at his brown wool leggings, knee-high leather boots, and dark brown, long leather belted vest over his tan wool tunic. This was not the dress of a Highlander.
His troubled thoughts stopped him. How could he even think that he was not a Highlander? He had been born and raised in one of the most powerful clans in all of Scotland. He couldn’t lose his heritage. He would return to it once this chore was done.
But the question nagged at him. Could he truly go home again? In his heart, he was always a Highlander, but now…
He glanced over himself with a critical eye and knew that there wasn’t a shred of a Highlander there. He was now, by no means of his own doing, a mercenary, a man who would kill for a price.
That certainly wasn’t the way of a Highlander. A Highlander fought for his clan and his land. His skills or integrity could not be bought. A Highlander was an honorable man, and he had been anything but that.
He stretched his hands out and took a good look at them. They bore not only the marks of battle but of his fight to survive as well. When he had first been captured by the barbarians, two of his fingers had been broken and never healed right. He had been forced to learn how to cope with the disability and how to handle his sword and bow and arrow all over again. Strangely enough, it had made him more proficient at both.
He made a fist and gave his chest a pound, a chest that was once a source of teasing from his brothers. They had reminded him time and again how scrawny he was, but no more. He had gained thirty pounds of hard muscle, not only in his chest but in his arms and legs. He also thought he had gained in height—at one time thinking himself shorter than most men, he now seemed to stand a full head above them. Though perhaps it was just his overall appearance, for his once-boyish looks were gone, replaced by those of a battle-hardened warrior. His slim nose had been broken, its perfect shape left slightly distorted. And though he was but five-and-twenty years old, age lines had dug deep around his eyes and crept around his mouth. Oddly enough, while the women seemed fearful of him, they were also drawn to him. There wasn’t a village he entered where women didn’t offer themselves to him though he wasn’t interested.
There was only one woman he loved even though he had never seen her face. He had relished her tender and loving touch and could still feel and smell her warm, sweet breath on his cheek as she reassured him he would be all right, that she would see him get well and grow strong. She had also assuaged his worries over his brother Cavan’s fate, finding out that he was also a captive but alive and well. She had given him hope when there had been none, and she had kept her word…she had helped him grow strong again. And it was because of Carissa, a heartless barbarian just like her father, that the woman he loved was lost to him forever.
He would not rest until Carissa felt the same pain she had inflicted upon him and Hope. He had named the slave Hope, for she had admitted in a whisper that she could not recall a given name, having been a slave as long as she could remember.
She had cleaned and mended his wounds and bathed the blood off him. She had spooned a tasty liquid into his mouth even when he protested that he wasn’t hungry. She had insisted he needed to grow strong.
She had done all this, and he had no inkling of her features. He had been beaten so badly that his eyes had been swollen shut. His recovery was long, and he would have suffered even more if it hadn’t been for Hope. She came to him every day, though her visits were short, Carissa arriving and, with a harsh voice, chasing her away while berating her.
However, Hope would sneak back to him at night, and they would talk. The more he learned about her, the more he fell in love with her and the more she insisted that they could never be together. He refused to believe her, but she had been right.
Carissa sold him to a band of mercenaries and, while it would have been easy for him to escape from them, or simply buy his freedom and return home, his only thought was to free Hope and take her home with him. It had proved more difficult than he had thought, and the day came when he learned that Hope was gone forever. A part of him died that day, a part he would never be able to retrieve.