Series: His Highland Heart #4
A Dutiful Daughter No More
When Mary Elizabeth Rose’s father marries a much younger lass in hopes of siring a male heir, Mary sees her chance to escape her role as his chatelaine, but fears his next step will be to betroth her to a stranger. She has a different future in mind—with a sometimes charming, sometimes difficult and arrogant wounded Highlander.
He Owes Her His Life
Cameron Sutherland is not too delirious to recognize Mary Rose is the first woman he could seriously consider taking as his bride. He’d like nothing better than to spend years repaying the debt he owes his angel of mercy for taking him in and saving his life. First, he must convince her to defy her father one last time.
Will They Put Love Before Duty?
For Mary, Cameron has become the man whose every smile has the power to bring her to her knees. But he is as duty-bound as she is, and responsibility calls him back to Sutherland, where she fears he will stay, forgetting her and all they’ve shared. With another powerful clan’s interests at stake, Cameron’s return sets events in motion that will have life-changing consequences for the woman he can’t forget.
Mary asked Janie to take Cameron’s meal to his chamber. She couldn’t face him again. Not yet. Not with what, to her, felt like a betrayal hanging between them. The fact that her father forced her to leave made little difference. In Mary’s heart, she wanted to remain behind with Cameron and knew staying with him was the right thing to do. But her head argued for the duty she owed her father and laird.
She had just finished her own meal in the great hall with some of the clan, when Janie came running back and stopped below where she sat on the raised dais.
“He’s acting tetched again, milady. I think ye need to come.”
Mary jumped to her feet and hurried after Janie across the hall, past the concerned gazes of the people there. They all knew about Cameron, through few had met him yet. “Fetch the healer,” she ordered when they reached the stairs. “Then bring cold water and cloths. I’ll go on up.”
“Aye, milady.” Janie hastened away.
Mary ran up the stairs to his chamber and found Cameron sprawled in tangled sheets, tossing his head. She rushed to his side and put a hand on his brow. “Ach, nay,” she muttered under her breath. His fever had increased again. “Cameron, ’tis Mary. It appears ye did a wee more than ye shouldha today. How do ye feel?”
He stilled. “Like hell.” He turned his face away from her. “Sorry, lass.”
“Apology accepted.” She pulled the covers aside. His shirt was already wet and clammy with his sweat. What had happened between earlier today and now? “Cameron, let me pull up yer shirt. I need to see yer wound.”
His eyes remained closed underneath a fierce crease between his brows, but his hands pawed at his waist. At least he wasn’t so far gone in fever he couldn’t understand what she said to him. Then she realized he was trying to keep a sheet over his lower half while he helped her with his shirt. It took effort, but she got it free just as the healer bustled in, followed by the serving lass.
Mary stepped aside to let the healer examine the wound. “I’ll take those,” Mary told the Janie, who waited by the door with the water and cloths she’d asked for earlier. “I need ye to fetch some watered ale, too,” Mary saw the concern written in the girl’s wide-eyed expression and cocked her head.
“He’ll no’ die, will he?” Janie asked softly. “I like him. I wouldna want him to die.”
“He willna die, nay. We dinna want him to, either.” Mary gave her a reassuring smile and sent her on her way, then set what the lass had brought on the table by Cameron’s bed.
The healer stood and beckoned Mary away from her patient. “I canna understand what set him off again,” she said, speaking softly. “The wound looks to be healing well.”
“So ’tis the blood fever again?”
She shook her head. “I dinna ken. What did he do today?”
“I found him in the garden early this morning. We walked a while and talked. I canna think any of that would have harmed him.”
“Well, we’ll resume the willow bark tea…”
“Ach, nay,” Cameron objected, rising up on an elbow with a wince, clearly having heard at least the end of their discussion. “That bitter stuff.”
“Twill save yer life, ye daft man. If ye’d stayed abed as I told ye, this might no’ have happened.”
“Ye told him to stay abed? When?”
“Just this morn. I found him in yon chair, soon after first light.” The healer gestured at the wooden seat by the window.
“Bored,” Cameron complained. “And now Mary will leave me. More bored.” He held out a hand. “Thirsty.”
Mary rolled her eyes. “The maid is on her way with some watered ale. Ye are no’ so sick as all that. I’ll bring ye a book to read.”
“I’ll get the tea and be right back,” the healer announced and left Mary to tend to her cranky patient, who had dropped back to his pillow and closed his eyes.
“For now, we need to cool ye.” She put the cloths into the water pitcher to let them soak. She wrung one out. “This will be cold.”
“I ken it. ’Tis no’ like ye have no’ done this to me before.”
In answer, Mary laid the cold cloth on Cameron’s chest.
“Shite! Could ye warn me?”
“Ye could open yer eyes.” She spread the cloth across his broad chest, her fingers itching to trace its muscled contours. Instead, she stepped back and reached for another cloth. “Does the light hurt them?”
He’d frowned when he answered. Mary took pity on him and used the next cloth to wipe sweat from his face, then laid it across his brow and eyes.
Cameron nodded. “That feels better.”
“I dinna ken why yer fever came back,” Mary soothed, “but we will make it go away.”
“I want ye to stay, Mary. No’ to go with yer da. No one cares for me as ye do.”
“Nonsense. Why, even the serving girl doesna wish ye to die, though I canna see why she likes ye when ye complain like this. Now, stop acting like a wean. Ye’re no’ three years old. Ye’ll get better whether I have the care of ye or nay.”
“So ye have made up yer mind to go,” Cameron said softly, as though to himself.
He failed to respond to her teasing, making her frown. “I dinna have much choice, now do I?” Mary wrung out another cloth and stroked it along Cameron’s neck and throat. It caught in the bristles of his dark beard and they teased Mary’s fingertips with their rough texture. “We need to get the lad to shave ye again,” she told him. He nodded and tilted his head, giving her better access. Then she got a fresh cloth and wrung it out. “Brace yerself. I’m going to put this one on yer belly.”
“Ye dinna think yer da can take care of himself without ye?” Cameron challenged as she spread the cold cloth below the one on this chest. His only reaction was to tighten the muscles in his abdomen.
Mary was glad he couldn’t see her face. She enjoyed looking at Cameron’s muscles, and the trail of hair that disappeared under the covers. She knew where it led, of course, but that knowledge only made it more compelling. They were not wed. She should not even be aware of what the covers hid. She pulled her thoughts away from Cameron’s generous anatomy. “Nay, I dinna think he can. I dinna ken what that Grant woman is planning or expecting to achieve with this visit. I’m sorry, Cameron. ’Tis my duty to him and to this clan.”
The healer came back then with a cup of the willow bark tea in her hand. “Ye must drink all of this,” she reminded him.
Cameron threw an arm over his eyes.
Though she couldn’t see the upper part of his face Mary knew his expression had to be one of long suffering. He hated the taste of willow bark tea. “Let’s sit ye up,” she told him and stripped the damp cloths from his body, then tugged at the one he’d trapped between his arm and forehead. “So ye can drink it faster.”
Janie returned then, too, with another pitcher. Her eyes widened at the nearly naked man.
Mary frowned and gestured for her to set the pitcher down, not liking the lass’s reaction, so like her own, to seeing Cameron’s chest. “Then ye can have some ale,” Mary promised.
Cameron wiped his face with the cloth, then handed it back to Mary. With a grunt, he rolled to his side, swung his legs off the bed and sat up, tugging the sheet and woolen blanket along with him over his lap. Then he accepted the cup from the healer and tossed it back, wincing as he swallowed. “Ale…please.”
The serving girl poured some into a clean cup with a shaking hand and gave it to Mary. Mary passed it to Cameron.
He tossed it back, then held the cup out. “More. I can still taste that bitter tea.”
The healer nodded, so Mary let the girl refill the cup and gave it back to him. “Slower this time, aye?” Mary cajoled. He surprised her by obeying. When he finished, he held the cup out to her.
“That’s enough for now,” the healer told him. “I’ll check on ye in an hour. I expect to find ye asleep.”
Cameron gave her a wry smile. “I’ll do my best.” Then he turned his gaze to Mary. “Will ye stay?”
“Aye, if only to torture ye some more.” She gestured for Janie to follow the healer out. Mary reached into the water pitcher for another wet cloth. “Lie on yer good side if ye wish and I’ll put some of these on yer back.”
Cameron nodded and did as he was told, keeping the bedclothes over his lower half. Then he rolled to his belly, rested his head on his arms, and turned his face toward her.
Mary lost herself for a moment looking at the way the muscles of his back stretched like wings, then noticed the crease between his eyebrows. “Does lying like that pull at yer scar?”
“A wee bit.”
“Stubborn man.” She shook herself and wrung out a cloth, then laid it over this head, leaving his face uncovered, but pressing a corner of the cloth over as much of his forehead as she could reach.
Would he sigh like that when he kissed her?
She had to stop thinking that way. After warning him, she placed another cloth on the back of his neck. He rewarded her with a groan of pleasure that reached deep in her belly and made her thighs clench.
She plunged her hand into the cold water to distract herself, then pulled out another cloth. She covered his back, though it took three cloths to span his shoulders and reach down to the swell of his buttocks. She longed to trace the dip in his lower back, but dared not touch him in any way not clearly meant to help him heal.
Instead, she asked, “Would ye like me to read to ye?” She knew her voice soothed him and the stories gave his mind something to focus on besides his discomfort.
His eyes opened long enough for him to answer her. “Aye, I would.”
She removed all the damp cloths, pulled the covers up to his broad shoulders, but restrained herself from tangling her fingers in the hair curling along the strong cords of his neck. Instead, she crossed to the chair beside the fire and picked up the latest book she’d been reading to him. Eventually, his breathing slowed and the crease between his dark brows smoothed out, making him look younger, even sweeter. She set the book aside, bent over him and brushed her fingertips across his forehead. Cooler. Something had helped.
She left him to his rest. After she closed the chamber door behind her, she leaned against it. Cameron was a temptation she didn’t need in her life. She could not hope for anything to happen between them. He owed duties to his clan and would soon leave her, so why did she allow herself to have these feelings about him?
She shook her head to rid herself of the unwanted longings and went to find the healer. After this relapse, Mary feared she’d spend the entire trip not just missing Cameron, but worrying for his life. She needed the healer’s reassurance.
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