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The Highlander's Bride

By:Donna Fletcher

Chapter 1

Lord, please send me a husband.”

Sara was desperate. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been kneeling on the hard stone floor in the chapel of Stilmere Abbey for near an hour, praying.

The good Lord certainly had to have heard her by now, she thought, and realized she required immediate attention.

“I need a husband now, Lord, this very moment. My father isn’t going to wait any longer. You must send me a husband today.”

Sara expelled a heavy breath and got off her knees, stretching the ache out of her back. She paced in front of the small wooden altar draped in fine white linens, a gold cross gracing the center.

All she had to do was obey her father’s edict and marry the man of his choosing.

Donald McHern was a large man built as solid as a tree trunk and his width almost equal to one. His craggy narrow face was beset with a mane of fiery red hair that clansmen swore looked as if it were set aflame when he lost his temper, and his height towered over all in the clan. The soft blue-green color of his eyes was the only thing that attested to the man having a spark of kindness. But his people considered him a fair laird, would attest to his attributes and often sang his praise. He provided well for the clan and kept them free of senseless feuds, though he took up his sword whenever necessary.

The clan had remarked on their chieftain’s fairness when her father had issued the same edict to Sara as he had to his older daughter Teresa: “Find a husband or I’ll find one for you.”

Luckily, Teresa had already fallen in love with Shamus, a clansmen her father favored, and he had been quick to approve her choice.

Unfortunately, Sara had inherited much of her father’s outspoken, authoritative nature, not to mention his fiery red hair, blue-green eyes, and height. She had stood eye-to-eye with her six-foot father and claimed she couldn’t find a husband worthy of her.

Donald McHern had pointed out, with a shout, that it was her blunt nature and refusal to obey a man that kept her from finding a husband. No decent man wanted to put up with the likes of her; he’d forever have to battle her willful nature.

So her father did what he felt was his duty and found her a husband.

Sara shivered at the mere thought of Harken McWilliams. He belonged to a nearby clan but harbored aspirations of joining forces with the mighty McHerns. And what better way than wedding the chieftain’s daughter?

Harken wasn’t a bad-looking man, but he was a filthy one, with the stench to prove it. Throw in teeth that were crooked and half rotted, and as she told her father right in front of Harken…

“There’s no way in hell I’d let the putrid man kiss me, let alone touch me.”

Harken had stepped forward with a rush to intimidate her, though how he had expected to do that when his height paled hers by several inches, she never understood. She had moved with her own speed and informed him quite bluntly, with her hand on the hilt of the dagger tucked at her waist, that she’d cut his balls off if he laid a hand on her.

He had jumped back, startled and shaken, to stand directly behind her father.

Her father’s face had burned bright red, and there and then he ordered her to Stilmere Abbey to reside with the nuns until she came to her senses. That had been two years ago.

Now, at twenty and two, she had yet to come to her senses, and so her father sent a message to the Abbess informing Sara that she had two choices. Marry Harken McWilliams, who agreed to still honor the marriage arrangement despite her disrespectful remarks, or take her vows and remain in the abbey the rest of her life.

Neither option appealed to Sara, so her only choice was to ask the good Lord for help. After all, no higher authority existed that she could seek help from, and certainly no higher authority that could perform the miracle she needed.

Now, she sank to her knees in front of the cross and once again clasped her hands together in prayer. Her voice was soft and reverent, though touched with desperation. “No disrespect, Lord, but I just can’t stay here. It’s too barren of a life for me, and while I’ve learned some skills, I can’t stand the confinement. This life is not for me. So, please, please, please send me a husband. I won’t be fussy. I’ll take whoever you send me, though I ask that he doesn’t stink.” She sighed. “But if that’s all you’ve got available, I’ll take him and throw him in the first river or loch we pass and wash the stench off him. Please just send me a man. I’ll do the rest.”

Sara continued to pray. It seemed to her that prayer was all she had left. If the good Lord didn’t see fit to take pity on her and offer a helping hand, she didn’t know what she was going to do. The two options open to her were simply not acceptable. She could never wed the foul-smelling Harken. And—Lord forgive her—she could never take the vows of a nun and remain forever confined to the abbey.

She muttered prayer after prayer, while reminding the heavens of the urgency of her intolerable situation.

A gentle tap on her shoulder startled her to her feet and sent her stumbling, though she was quick to right herself.

“I did not mean to alarm you or intrude on your prayer time,” Sister Mary said in a respectful hush for her surrounding. “The Abbess wishes to speak with you immediately.”

Sara burdened her mind with the last few days’ activities, wondering what she had done now to annoy or upset the Abbess. Try as she might, she always managed to get herself into some type of quandary. It just served to prove that she was not at all suited to becoming a nun.

She draped her heavy blue wool shawl over her head and around her shoulders as they left the chapel and the last stirrings of a winter wind stung her cheeks red. “Do you know what it is she wants of me?” she asked.

Sister Mary shook her head. “The Abbess did not say, though I think it has something to do with the man who waits with her.”