Dansbury approached their wagon with his bundle of blankets, but was halted in his steps by the sight that greeted him. For there, on one side wall of the wagon’s bed, stood a child’s toy soldier.
And right away, he knew it was his.
Anger surged. He dropped the pile of blankets and grabbed the toy. Then, he spun around and scanned the trees around him. Of course, there was no sign of the traitor lurking nearby.
“Damn you, you traitorous bastard! You were supposed to be my friend! My friend! How could you?” He bellowed his questions to the trees, hoping that the turncoat was still nearby to hear his curse. He didn’t know if the man following them was MacLeod or Kelly. But it was one of them, without a doubt. Not many people had the skill.
And he’d counted them both as friends. His eyes watered with emotion at the thought. It tore at him. Ate at his soul. Never mind, the significance of the toy soldier.
The one he’d thought he lost after that fateful day under the sofa in Father’s library.
He spun at the sound of footsteps behind him. It was Beatryce, wrapped in an oversized blanket with her hair sticking out in all directions. She was a mess, dirty and disheveled. She’d never looked more beautiful.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” she asked, concern darkening her brow.
He broke the trance brought on by her beauty. “What’s the matter? A fool has dared to play a terrible, dangerous trick on me. A dupe who will pay with his life.” He looked to the trees again. “Do you hear me, you bastard? You will pay with your damn life!”
He was so angry his hands shook. His heart raced, and his mouth went dry. His thoughts were wild; he couldn’t focus on any one thing. And the things around him looked off, sharper and off-color. He was so angry…and destroyed…by the thought of betrayal.
A warm hand began rubbing his back in slow, smooth circles. It eased him, somewhat—took the edge off his racing thoughts. He turned and without a second thought, enveloped Bea in his arms.
He buried his face in the crook of her neck and inhaled her scent through a deep breath. She smelled of the outdoors. Of pine and grass. Crisp. With a trace of smoke from the fire that’d burned in the hearth.
They stood there that way for what might have been hours, embracing and sharing their strength. He didn’t care that the turncoat might be watching. He didn’t care that not long ago, he’d despised this woman. She offered her strength, which he knew was formidable, and he took it.