Here is an excerpt from HIGHLAND SPARKS:
October, 1263, South Ayrshire, Scotland
Gwyneth of the Cunningham smiled as she thought about how well she had done at the butts. Her father, who’d first taught her how to nock, draw, and release an arrow, would have been so proud. How she missed her da and her brother Gordon. They had held such fierce competitions, and even though she’d lost most of the time, it had improved her skills as an archer. She picked up her pace so she could find her younger brother, Father Rab, to tell him of her good fortune for the day.
As she approached the back door to the Kirk, a rustling in the bushes startled her a few seconds before two sets of strong arms picked her up and pinned her to the ground. She tried to scream, but a gag was stuffed in her mouth, stifling the words she wished to shout: Help me, please! Someone help me. Who are you?
She kicked and squirmed with everything she had, but to no avail. One vile brute held her arms while the other pinned her legs. The smell of fish invaded her nostrils.
She prayed for her brother to step outside or for anyone in the area to assist her. But it was dusk, and the men wore dark clothes. Bystanders would have to be close to realize what was afoot. Even Gwyneth could barely make out the looks of them. The lout at her feet tied her legs together.
“Och, ‘tis a feisty one, is she no’? I’d like a wee taste of this one.” The smelly one at her head spoke first.
“Keep your shaft between your legs. Duff will skin you alive if you touch her. He says she still has her maidenhead.” The name made her buck and kick even harder. Seven long years ago, she had watched her father and brother die at the hands of Duff Erskine. He was her one sworn enemy.
Smelly guffawed. “Well, I would no’ mind checking for him.”
The second attacker finished tying her legs before nodding to his partner. “Shut up before someone hears you, fool. Tie her hands together so we can get moving. The boat leaves shortly.”
Gwyneth panicked. The boat? As in a boat to send her off from the docks? Where were they sending her? Her heartbeat sped up as her vision dimmed.
“You know Duff makes ten times the coin for a lass whose maidenhead is intact.” He grinned at her as she continued to fight against her bindings. “Whoever buys this one in the East will have a challenge taming her.”
Her maidenhead? The East? What were they talking about?
A chill ran up her spine as cold sweat drenched her body. All the possibilities—one worse than the next—raced through her mind as her eyes searched the area for someone, anyone, to help her. Not paying any heed to the desperation, the two men tossed her in a horse-drawn cart like she was a sack of flour and covered her with a scratchy blanket. At the last minute, her bow landed beside her.
“Why’d you do that?” Smelly asked the second man.
“Duff says he can sell any weapon. He’ll make coin off her bow and quiver.”
Screaming through the gag, she bucked with all her might, but no one came to her rescue. Angry tears slid down her cheeks at her own powerlessness. All the training in the world with her bow and arrow would not help her now.
Papa, help me. Lord, help me. The words repeated themselves over and over in her head as she was bounced along in the cart. It seemed as though she had been moving forever, but in truth she knew it had only been about an hour before the horses finally slowed.
The smell of the firth reached her and she closed her eyes, not wanting to accept what would happen next.
Nay, nay, nay.
She bucked again in an attempt to throw herself over the side of the cart, but failed. A few minutes after the horses stopped, Duff Erskine’s hated voice reached her ears.
“There she is.” He removed the blanket and her gag and stroked her cheek. “Och, you did grow up to be a beauty, didn’t you? And those blue eyes. I never noticed them before.” He broke out in a huge grin. “You will fetch me a large number of coins. How are that bow and arrow working for you? I’m glad the lads brought them along. I’ll sell them in the East as well.”
Gwyneth screamed and Erskine slapped her. “Close your mouth.” She screamed again, and he wrenched her up by her hair. “No one will help you. I send women abroad whenever I please, and no one ever helps them. Why? Because no one dares face me, not even the sheriff. But have no fear, you won’t be alone,” he said with a smirk. “Several women will be going with you.” As soon as he was close enough, she clawed her fingernails across his hand. “Bitch!” Flinging her head back down, he cursed again at her, checking his skin where she’d scratched him.
Duff Erskine had changed. No longer looking like he lived by the water and just came off a boat, he wore finery like any nobleman in England. A sickish smell emanated from him, some type of scent much like a lady would wear lavender. Gwyneth’s nose wrinkled, but then she grinned, noticing a small trail of blood sliding down his arm. It was a shallow wound, but each drop of blood was a small victory.
He turned to one of his comrades—the one she knew as Smelly—and said, “Rodney, hold her head down.”
The brute pinned her head to the cart. No matter how she fought, she couldn’t escape his grip. Erskine leaned over and pinched her nose. “Open up.”
Gwyneth refused to open her mouth and held tight for as long as she could, flailing and kicking at the same time.
The other brute pinched her thigh and said, “Open up, bitch. I gotta get home.”
She couldn’t hold on any longer. Her mouth opened as she gasped for air and Erskine forced a vile liquid into her mouth. She fought to spit it out, but gagged on it, swallowing much of it.
Fight, Gwyneth! Fight! A persistent voice cried out in the back of the head, but darkness overpowered her as her squirming weakened, whatever liquid he gave her taking over.