Highland Devil (Murray Family #22)

By: Hannah Howell

Chapter One


The way her cousins burst into the house startled and frightened Mora. She paused in doing up her cloak. “What do ye want?” she demanded as she pushed Andrew behind her.

“We want ye gone,” answered Robert, the eldest.

“Why? I have a right to stay here and hold the house for my brothers’ return.” She felt a chill at the look that crossed Robert’s face.

“We can hold it for them. Now that your parents are dead, ’tis nay right for ye to stay here alone. How will ye fare with no one bringing in some coin?”

“The goats give me milk and I will have cheese to make and sell. ’Tis nay a bountiful living, but it will serve.”

Robert looked at his brothers and nodded toward the back door. All three went in that direction. Mora tried to stop them, but Robert paused long enough to backhand her in the face, and she fell. She was just scrambling to her feet when she heard the first goat scream. Keeping an eye on Murdoch, who rushed out the door and tried to stop what his brothers were doing, she grabbed the bag she had packed for young Andrew, handed it to him, and hurried over to a window to lift him out.

“Run with the goats if any get away. Go to Aunt Maggie.”

“But ye should come, too,” Andrew said. “We were supposed to stay together.”

“Go. I will come when I can. Go!”

She watched him run to the woods and a moment later saw several of her goats bolting into the woods as well. Pleased her cousins had not killed all the animals, she turned around and saw a badly battered Murdoch leaning against the side of the door frame, watching her.

The elder three brothers came stomping back into the house, and she tensed. “Ye shouldnae have killed my animals. Glad some of them kenned the danger and fled.”

“Ye willnae be able to gather them all back anyway,” sneered Robert as he walked toward her. “Now we have taken care of your parents and your cursed goats.”

Shock turned her blood cold and she said in a voice softened by horror, “It wasnae thieves. It was ye who killed my parents. Ye probably took what they had earned for their goods as well.”

Robert laughed. “Of course we did. And it showed they had a good day at the market. They had no need of it and ye willnae either. And, curse it, where is that wee brat Andrew?”

“Ye expect me to tell ye where he is when ye have just admitted to killing our parents?”

“Aye, and if ye dinnae, we can easily make ye want to tell us anything.”

“I think people would frown on ye torturing your own cousin, especially if that person is a newly orphaned girl.”

“Nay when they are told ye are a thief and a killer.”

“What nonsense is that? I have stolen nothing and killed no one.”

“Ye stole money from our da and ye killed the mon who was caring for him.”

“William has died? How did that happen?” She forced herself to speak calmly although she was deeply shocked. “He was verra hale and hardy when I last saw him.”

“Aye, right before ye stabbed him with a sword ye stole from me, along with some coin our da had in a wee wooden box that has a carved dragon on the lid.”

The description of the wooden box with money in it told her they had robbed her of her father’s small savings. She also knew they did not have it, for it was stuffed deep in the bag she had packed. Mora suspected they had killed poor William, too, or Robert had, and she had the chilling feeling the man had died because he had suspected that the laird’s illness was being caused by something being given to him. Worse, it was something his own son was doing.

“Ye have gone mad, havenae ye?”

Robert grabbed her by the arm, and it was so shocking, and painful, she could not silence a cry. She heard a recognizable hiss even as she saw her small cat leap upon Robert’s face, her little paws scratching furiously at him. Robert screamed and his brothers Duncan and Lachlan started to rush to his side even as Robert grabbed little Freya and hurled her toward the fireplace. Since he had released her in his vain attempt to protect his face, Mora ran and grabbed the animal.

When she saw Murdoch signal with a motion of his head that she should run, she did not hesitate, but Robert still tried to stop her, grabbing her by the wrist and lashing out with a knife. He did not manage to stab her as he had clearly intended, but she knew he had scraped the flesh on her side for it stung and she could feel that there was some wetness, telling her that it bled. Breaking free of Robert, she then raced to the door while his brothers reached his side and clumsily tried to help him. He was screeching as if he had just been gutted.

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