Connor didn't acknowledge her.

MacNare jumped up to run toward the hidden passage. As he was turning, he heard the whistle of the sword slicing through the air and dodged to his right. Connor had anticipated his reaction. Donald MacAlister's blade thrust through the center of MacNare's neck, continued on, and lodged into the wall behind. MacNare was lifted by the impact, thrown back from its force, and pinned to the passage door.

It opened and began to sway back and forth.

The only sound heard was the squeaking of the panel and the low gurgling of MacNare's death rattle.

"Please help me, son," Euphemia called out again. "Have mercy on your mother."

None of the warriors acknowledged her. Crispin asked Connor if he wanted him to get his father's weapon, but his laird shook his head.

"It's where my father wanted it to be. Leave it."

"Connor," Euphemia screamed. "Please… please…" Without a backward glance, Connor walked out of the hall, his stepmother's screams slowly fading away.

Chapter 18

Connor had made his choice. When Brenna was given her husband's message, she was overwhelmed with defeat. He had gone to Euphemia. There was little hope for a future together now, as he was clearly locked in his past, and nothing she could do would ever change that.

As soon as she saw her reaction, Jamie was sorry she'd told her. Brenna had been rapidly recovering from her injuries until she was told Connor's whereabouts. She became withdrawn then, and even though Jamie tried to get her to tell her why, she refused to say a word.

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The mere mention of Connor agitated her. After trying for three full days to get Brenna to tell her what was wrong, Jamie decided she would have to wait until their husbands returned to find out what the problem was.

Time healed Brenna's body. Her appearance underwent a dramatic change in a very short while. The swelling was nearly gone from her face and shoulders; the bruises had already begun to fade, and her arm was healing nicely.

On the fourth day of her confinement, Brenna was up and dressed. Jamie looked in on her after the noon meal was served, and was pleased to see her sitting in a chair next to the window.

"How are you feeling today?" she asked.

"Much better," Brenna told her. She tried to sound cheerful, but knew she'd failed when Jamie hurried to her side and put her hand on her forehead.

"There isn't any fever," Brenna said. "I'm fine now, really."

"You're healing quickly, but we both know your heart is still aching. I have a surprise that should make you smile though. Father Sinclair has been insistent on speaking with you. If he had told me earlier that he'd spoken to your mother, I would have let him come up," she added with a laugh. "He didn't think to mention that fact until a few minutes ago."

Brenna was overjoyed. "He's here, really here?"

"Ah, finally a smile," Jamie said. "He's been here since yesterday evening. He sat with you several hours last night, but you slept through it. Shall I show him in?"

"Yes, please."

Brenna jumped to her feet the second Father Sinclair entered the chamber. "I'm so happy to see you,"

she cried out.

"Be happy sitting down," Jamie ordered, hovering over her patient like a mother hen.

Brenna did as she was instructed, waited until the priest had moved a second chair over to the window to face her, and then said, "Was your journey successful?"

"All is well," Father assured her with a nod.

Brenna was afraid to believe him. She clasped hold of Jamie's hand and held tight. "You're certain?"

In answer, he held up her medallion and put it in her other hand. "I'm certain."

She burst into tears.

"This isn't good news?" Jamie asked. "Are you in pain? Tell me what's wrong, please."

"She's overcome with happiness," Father said.

"Yes, I'm happy," Brenna stammered out.

"I had no idea she'd lost her medallion."

"Oh, it was never lost," the priest said.

Jamie was thoroughly confused. "Then why…"

"You mustn't worry about me."

"I worry about you because I love you, sister, and so does your husband. Now, I'm leaving the two of you alone to visit. Father, I hope you'll be able to convince her Connor hasn't forsaken her."

Before the priest could respond, Brenna shook her head. "I would much rather you sat with us and heard my news from home."

Jamie declined the invitation. "If I leave the door open, I'm certain it will be all right for me to go downstairs. Grace is hiding under the table so she won't have to take her nap. The child hasn't figured out I can see her from across the hall, of course. I'll warn you now, Brenna. I promised her she could sit with you after she rests. She seems to think you belong to her while you're here."

"I would love to see her."

After bowing to Father Sinclair, Jamie left the room.

"You must tell me everything, Father," Brenna said.

The priest nodded. "I was welcomed into your parents' home right away, and I carried with me another brown robe for Faith to wear on her journey to Gillian's fortress. I heard that he, too, was away from his home, and I'll admit I wasn't certain what I should do then. Fortunately, the abbey came to mind. I knew that the monks keep rooms available for weary travelers. Faith met me in the meadow. She put on the robe when we reached the forest, and we avoided the main path on our journey."

"How can I ever repay you?" Brenna asked.

"You needn't repay me. God watched over us, and surely that was why we didn't run into any difficulties.

Your sister is a lovely young woman. I was amused by her views on several subjects," he admitted.

The priest then told her several stories about her sister. Brenna laughed with delight, and oh, how the sound warmed Father's heart.

Once again, the element of surprise was on Connor's side, and they were ready to attack when the northerners flooded down through the passage. It was a bloody battle and a fight to the death, but in just three days time, the enemy was defeated. Tending to the wounded so that they could make the journey back home took much longer than the actual battle, and neither Connor nor Alec would leave until the last of their own was on his way.

The soldiers requiring stitches were taken to Jamie, who was kept busy from early morning until late at night repairing the damage. Stragglers continued to come across the drawbridge for three more days, and they also needed Jamie's care.

Fortunately, none of the men required last rites, which was all well and good, since Father Sinclair had left the Kincaid fortress to finish up what he told Jamie was an important matter at the Dunkady Abbey down near the Lowlands. He didn't expect to return to the MacAlisters' keep for at least two full weeks.

Because it was so chaotic, with men going and coming across the drawbridge at all hours of the day and early evening, no one noticed Brenna was missing, and it wasn't until an hour before Alec came home that Jamie realized she had vanished. Everyone searched high and low for her, of course, and all for nought.

By the time her husband came inside the hall, Jamie was beside herself with worry. Knowing how Connor was going to react, she decided to let Alec tell him.

She wouldn't even give her husband time to kiss her. She threw herself into his arms and cried out, "Oh, thank God you're home. I've lost Brenna. You have to find her."

Alec refused to believe such a thing was possible. No one could get in or out of his fortress without permission. An hour later, he wanted to kill every man who had been left behind to guard his family.

Yet, as infuriated as he was, his reaction was mild compared to Connor's. He was enraged.

"How could you lose her, Alec?" he roared.

"Could she have gone back home?"

"I stopped by my keep to get something I knew would please my wife. I sure as thunder would have noticed if she'd been there."

"I'm so sorry, Connor," Jamie said. She sat down at the table and buried her face in her hands. "I should have been watching her. I did look in every morning before I went downstairs, and I thought she was in the bed. It was too early to wake her up, and I didn't get back to the keep until late that night. I looked in her room again and thought she was sleeping. I should have pulled the covers back, and if I hadn't been so weary I would have noticed."

"Didn't one of the servants go into her room?" Connor asked.

"I told everyone not to bother her. Dear God, I don't even know how long she's been gone. I'm so sorry."

"Alec, take your wife to bed," Connor ordered. He followed his brother to the table and pulled the chair back so Jamie could get up.

"None of this is your fault, Jamie."

Alec lifted her into his arms. "You haven't had any sleep at all in the past week, have you?"

"I've been busy taking care of the wounded, Alec. I can sleep tomorrow. I have to find Brenna before…"

"Connor and I will find her. You're going to bed."

She was too tired to argue with him and knew she wasn't going to be very helpful anyway. She was having difficulty holding on to more than one thought at a time now. She put her head down on his shoulder. "I love you, Alec. What will you do to find her?"

"We'll start by tearing this keep apart. I'm not convinced she's gone."

Alec stopped in front of Quinlan and ordered him to keep Connor inside the hall until he came back, then carried his wife up to their bedroom.

"Don't forget to let the children know you're home," Jamie said. "And, Alec? I need to have you in our bed again. Will you wake me when you come in?"

She fell asleep before he could answer her. He removed her clothes, tucked the covers around her, kissed her forehead, and went back downstairs.

He and Connor personally went through every room in the keep. They extended their search, and when at last they reached the drawbridge, they were both convinced she had left.

Connor felt they had wasted their time. His anger quickly turned to panic.

"You know what her chances of surviving are outside the keep," Connor said. "She won't survive if she's alone, Alec. She…"

"She will survive," Alec snapped. "And you will soon be useless to me if you continue to think such thoughts."

By the time they returned to the hall, Connor was so scared, he couldn't think. He stormed about the room while he tried to figure out where she could have gone.

"Did you question all the men you left behind?"

"They were questioned, but not by me," Alec answered. "I've sent word for two of the men to return from sentry duty, and they will be here an hour after sunlight tomorrow."

"Tell me where they are," Connor demanded. "I'll go to them now."

"No."

Alec knew his brother well and was ready when Connor tried to leave. He blocked him with his arms.

"I'm going to order ten men to guard the doors in the event you try to leave during the night. Accept the fact that you aren't going anywhere until we figure out exactly where she is. The moon isn't providing sufficient light tonight, and you'll end up killing yourself and your horse if you leave here. You're going to be reasonable."

"You don't understand. I have to find her. She doesn't have a destination in mind."

"What does that mean?"

"Brenna only wants to get away from me. She blames me for not protecting her from Raen. I should have been there. I should have known… If anything happens to her, if I can't get to her before…"

"We'll find her," his brother insisted.

He and Quinlan stayed with Connor until the middle of the night. Alec went upstairs to sleep for an hour.

Connor wanted to begin questioning the men now, but Quinlan refused. "It would take us at least an hour to find all of them, and all have been told by their commander to be here at dawn. I know you won't sleep, but at least sit down, Connor. I know what you're going through. In your place, I would be raging inside too, but it's important that you stay clearheaded so you can find her."

Connor knew he was right. It was impossible to close his eyes, but he did eventually sit down. Quinlan fell asleep in one of the chairs near the entrance. Connor ordered him to go upstairs and sleep in one of the bedrooms. His friend didn't want to leave, of course, but as soon as the suggestion was given as an order, he was forced to obey.

For the rest of the night, Connor sat alone at the table in the darkness, waiting for dawn to arrive. He pictured every possible horror that could happen to his gentle wife until his mind rebelled and he simply couldn't take any more.

It was the longest night of his life.

The following day wasn't much better. He and Alec took turns questioning every soldier who had been left behind to guard their laird's fortress. No one knew anything that could help them.

Connor was going to leave for home to question his own people in the hope that Brenna might have said something to one of the servants that would help him find her, and as impatient as he was to get going, he also wanted to hear what each Kincaid soldier had to say.

The soldiers in charge of the drawbridge entered the hall just as Quinlan stepped forward to offer a suggestion. "Could she have gone to Faith?"

Connor rejected the possibility. "She didn't know her sister was in any danger. By the way, where did you put Faith, Alec?"

His brother didn't know what he was talking about. Quinlan explained while Connor continued to pace about the room.

Jamie came into the hall and sat at the table to listen to what the soldiers told her husband.

"Of course Brenna knew. I would know if anything happened to my sister. How she found out isn't important now. Oh, Lord, the medallion," Jamie cried out. She ran over to Connor. "I thought she lost it, but when the priest gave it back to her, he told me it had never been lost at all. Don't you understand?

Brenna must have sent Father Sinclair to her sister. She gave him the medallion to show Faith so she would know she was to do whatever the priest instructed her to do. I knew Brenna was clever, but this amazes me. I know I wouldn't have thought of it."

Alec questioned his men then, a strenuous undertaking because of Connor's ranting and raving, and in little time at all they knew how Brenna'd managed to leave.

Only one priest was reported coming inside the keep under Douglas's watch, but two priests had left when Niell was in charge.