Beyond a Doubt - By Felicia Rogers
Scotland, June 1557
Water swirled around in a torrent, sucking him under the vast currents. His arms flailed helplessly, attempting to grasp a rock, a limb, or anything available, only to have it ripped away. The noise of the rushing water confused him and severed his mental hold on his location. Tossed about by the raging water, he managed to surface long enough to catch a breath and notice a large boulder looming ahead. But it was too late to react. His ribs slapped the rock’s flat face and the wind was knocked from his weakened form.
So this was the end, to die by drowning so close to his destination. How had everything gone awry?
Several days earlier…
Bryce Cameron couldn’t be happier. Behind him, nestled amongst jagged rocks and trees, rested the Sinclair keep and his past. Before him awaited beautiful grasslands, with free-roaming sheep and his future.
Leaving Grant behind had been a kind of necessary torture. His cousin needed to sever ties, whereas Bryce needed freedom to travel. The call to home beckoned. Who knew what would happen if he waited any longer?
For the arduous journey ahead, Duncan, the Sinclair laird, had given him a horse and a sword. Arbella, the laird’s wife, had supplied him with food and blankets. With gladness, he’d accepted the gifts. Without a worry, Bryce set out for home. His woman awaited.
Crissy, a red-haired lass, short and round, full in bosom and hip, had a twinkle in her eye which constantly hinted at mirth. Temper was her middle name as she took pleasure in exhibiting it most of the time. But instead of deterring Bryce, it only endeared her to him. With his mild-mannered, laid-back ways, having a forceful woman seemed necessary. Besides, when her temper flared, her adorable dimples showed, and he couldn’t get enough of them.
Thoughts of Crissy sent his feet knocking the sides of his horse, urging the beast into increased speed. The animal cantered by a field dotted with white sheep lazily plucking at the ground, chewing in a slow rhythmic motion. As he sucked in the fresh air, he also smelled the odor of wet wool and the bleating of ewes. With it came the desire to arrive home more quickly.
Daydreams of a field full of sheep and a house full of children floated through his mind. Crissy would be in the middle of both. Strong, secure, and fierce, his soon-to-be wife would be a force to be reckoned with.
A smile tugged at his lips, a laugh escaped. The trail suddenly grew quiet and daunting in the afternoon sun. Since his journey had begun, there had been no traffic. An unnerving silence pervaded the area. The sooner he arrived on Cameron lands, the better he would feel.
The miles sped by. Nothing was prettier than the Scottish countryside. Forests, fields of flowers, and inhabited and uninhabited keeps dotted the landscape. Bryce avoided stopping in civilized areas, which would lead him off course. Without any delays, the road would have him home in a week’s time.
At night, Bryce slept under the stars. The weather stayed clear and warm, cooperating with his journey. He gave thanks to the Almighty for his uneventful passage.
After several days of travel, the end neared. The smell of sheep excrement increased. Within a day, he would arrive home and into the waiting arms of his betrothed. All the ways he might be greeted by his love entered his mind. Perhaps she would run out of her home and throw her arms around his neck, even going so far as to flatten a chaste kiss upon his cheek. Or maybe Crissy would set up a fuss about the length of his absence, in which case he would smile and agree, enjoying the sight of her anger thus presented.
A faint wind blew. The odor of his unwashed body sent his nose crinkling upward. Perhaps a bath was in order before meeting his beloved.
Bryce knew a river ran near Cameron lands. It would take no time to stop and bathe before going to meet his love. In fact, Crissy might be more affectionate if he removed the stink. The thought of increased affection hurried him along.
A path through the foliage opened to the river. Dismounting, Bryce tied his horse to a thick branch. Tunic removed and laid over his arm and his trews still in place, he waded in. One step into the chill waters almost led to retreat. Only the desire to please Crissy kept him moving.
The water was now waist