This weekend — after a work week of 12-hour days — I will be sitting down to finish what (I hope) is the last chapter of Untamed. I say "I hope," because sometimes you just can't fit into one chapter what you need to fit into one chapter, and making it any shorter but cutting out scenes makes it feel rushed or choppy. And since I'm already over, pretty much every page means another page might have to be cut somewhere else. So I hope this is the last chapter.
And then there's the epilogue, of course, but that's the part of the story I always love the most. I just love seeing the hero and heroine living their well-earned Happily Ever After. As a reader, I get to savor the happiness of characters I've come to love and watch all the pieces slide into final place for them. As a writer, it's my way of giving every bit of fulfillment to characters whom I cherish — and to my readers.
For me, that often includes proof that the hero and heroine's union is a rich and fruitful one, i.e., babies. I know it sounds corny in this day and age perhaps, but the ultimate outcome of a happy sexual relationship between a man and woman is children. Not tons of children, okay, but children. In historical times, this was also the inevitable outcome of sex. I also like to tie up any loose threads and give the hero and heroine "bonuses," such as Marc getting his old Chevy back.
What do you love/hate about epilogues? Have you ever read a purrfect epilogue?
And what would you do with a tied up Ranger? In one of our previous excerpts, Amalie allowed herself to explore his anatomy, running her hand over his chest and abdomen to feel all those muscles. She thought he was asleep. Well, he wasna. So what's she going to do with a tied-up Ranger today?
Read to find out...
Amalie stepped carefully around mud puddles as she made the long walk to the hospital, so lost in her own thoughts that she scarcely noticed the rain-fresh scent of the morning breeze or the bright blue sky or the soldiers at morning muster. She had hoped to be free of this duty. She had hoped to be free of him. Now that he was out of danger, she’d hoped never to see the Ranger again. She’d asked Bourlamaque to let her return to her customary duties, but he’d refused to release her.
“Monsieur Lambert tells me Major MacKinnon asked about you yesterday evening. He believes MacKinnon has warmed to you. You might yet be of some use to us in the infirmary.”
“But he is healing and no longer needs—”
Bourlamaque had cut her off. “Continue to tend him, as you have done so well. But now that he is awake, be attentive. Listen to him, and then report back to me all that he says.”
“You wish me to… to spy on him, monsieur?” The idea had seemed so absurd to Amalie that she could scarce speak it.
Bourlamaque had chuckled. “Non, sweet Amalie. It is not in your nature to deceive. I wish only for you to be exactly what you are—young and beautiful and innocent. He is a man who has seen much war, a man who knows he has come to his end. In his despair, he will seek solace in your gentleness. He will trust you and tell you things that he would never tell me. All you need do is inform me each day of all that was said. Can you do this?”
Ashamed of her own reluctance after all Bourlamaque and the men at Fort Carillon had done for her, she’d nodded. “Oui.”
Oh, how she wished Bourlamaque had not asked this of her! How could she explain to him that caring for the Ranger had already left her feeling beset by blame? Must she now compound her guilt by spying upon him? For that’s what it was no matter how delicately Bourlamaque had tried to paint it. She was to soothe his desperation with kindness in order to win his trust, then report all he told her to her guardian.
But why should the Ranger tell her anything? In her experience, most men deemed women unworthy of purposeful conversation, let alone confidences.
She opened the hospital door and stepped inside, giving her eyes a moment to adjust. A small fire burned in the hearth, chasing away the early morning damp. Two of Monsieur Lambert’s young attendants bustled about, one cleaning chamber pots, the other gathering soiled linens for the laundresses. Six soldiers lay on their little beds, some sleeping, all but one of them still recovering from the Ranger attack.
And this was what she needed to remember. Major MacKinnon had commanded the Rangers who’d harmed these men. He’d attacked this fort, and not for the first time. He had French blood on his hands—perhaps even her father’s blood.
One of the attendants turned toward her. “Bonjour, mademoiselle.”
“Bonjour.” She walked between the beds to the supply cupboard and took out two rolls of fresh linen, refusing to notice the beating of butterfly wings in her belly.
You have no reason to fear him, Amalie.
All she had to do was tend his simplest needs—food and drink—and listen considerately while he spoke. It was a uncomplicated task, not difficult at all. So why did she feel like running away?
She walked to the back room, found the door slightly ajar, and heard a man’s voice coming from within.
“If you think this is painful, major, wait until the Abenaki—”
Amalie pushed open the door to find Lieutenant Rillieux bent over the Ranger, the heel of his boot pressed cruelly against the wound in the Ranger’s thigh. Jaw clenched in obvious pain, the Ranger glared at him with undisguised hatred, but didn’t make a sound.
Aghast, she rushed in. “Monsieur! Que faites-vous?”
What are you doing?
Startled, the lieutenant jerked his leg away and turned toward her. A slow smile spread on his face. “I am just giving him the merest taste of what is to come, mademoiselle. It is better he be prepared, non?”
He spoke in English, his gaze shifting to the Ranger, who glared up at him, sweat beaded on his brow, a dark bruise spreading on his right cheek.
The Ranger’s voice was a growl. “Do your worst, you neach dìolain!”
Outraged, Amalie answered Lieutenant Rillieux in French. “You go too far! Did you not understand Monsieur Lambert’s orders that the prisoner was not to be abused?”
Lieutenant Rillieux took a step toward her, his smile gone. “You forget your place, mademoiselle. I do not answer to Monsieur Lambert, nor do I answer to you.”
But Amalie refused to let him intimidate her, no matter that the look on his face frightened her. “In the hospital, lieutenant, Monsieur Lambert’s word is to be obeyed. It is cruel and cowardly to strike an injured—”
The lieutenant cut her off. “You are in a fort in the midst of war, little Amalie, not in your convent! Here, military concerns prevail, not the frail sentiments of women.”
Fisting a hand in her hair, he ducked down and pressed his lips hard against hers, the contact painful and frightening—and mercifully brief.
Amalie was so shocked that it did not occur to her to push away until after he’d released her and walked out the door. She drew a trembling hand to her mouth and tried to wipe his taste away.
# # #
Morgan watched the poor lass wipe the violence of that bastard’s kiss off her lips and wished to God he had the strength to break iron. There’d be one less Frenchman walking the Earth if he could. “Did he harm you, Miss?”
She whirled about with a gasp, her fingers still pressed against her lips, her eyes wide. For a moment she simply stared at him, and Morgan found himself wondering if he’d slipped and spoken French to her.
Have a care, MacKinnon.
He’d understood every word of their conversation, of course, and it had only served to inflame his rage. The lass was an innocent, raised in a convent, and she’d been trying to protect him—only to suffer ridicule and ill use.
You are in a fort in the midst of war, little Amalie, not in your convent. Here, military concerns prevail, not the frail sentiments of women.
Morgan would liked to have kicked the bastard’s teeth down his throat for touching her, then tossed him on his arse for insulting women. Morgan knew a great many women, and few of them were frail-minded. Had the planning of this war been in the hands of his Muhheconneok grannies, it would likely have been won by now. But he could not let on that he’d understood lest he lose the only advantage he had—listening in on their conversations.
At last Miss Chauvenet shook her head. “He merely startled me.”
Morgan’s blood still boiled. “No man has the right to treat you thus. You should report him to Bourlamaque.”
Spots of pink appeared in her cheeks, and he realized she was ashamed that he had witnessed her humiliation. “Lieutenant Rillieux is a… good officer. I have wounded him. H-he wishes me to be his wife, but I… I have no interest in marriage.”
And then Morgan had to ask. “Are you pledged to the Church?”
She bowed her head. “Were it not for this war, I should most likely have returned to the abbey at Trois Rivières by now.”
At once Morgan felt a both sense of loss that so beautiful a woman should spend her grace on the Church and strange surge of relief to know that no man would ever have her. “I am sorry.”
She raised her head, met his gaze—then frowned. “Let me tend your face.”
“Is it so bad then?”
She did not answer but hurried to the bedside table, poured water from the pitcher into a wooden bowl and dipped a clean cloth into it, a look of concern on her face. “He struck you. You are shackled and injured, and he struck you.”
“Dinnae fret, lass. I wager I’ll suffer worse ere I leave this place.”
Abruptly, she stilled, the sodden cloth in her hands dripping water into the bowl. Then she seemed to catch herself. She squeezed the cloth out, but her motions were wooden, her face giving play to her distress.
So, the thought that he would be beaten upset her.
Morgan would remember that.
Without a word she pressed the cold cloth to his right cheek, the chill bringing relief from the sting of that whoreson’s fist—Rillieux she had called him.
He watched her as she bathed his cheek, his gaze seeking out the details of her form. The dark and delicate sweep of her lashes. The soft curve of her cheek. The fullness of her lips. The slender column of her throat. The gentle swell of her breasts beneath the lace of her bodice. The silken length of her hair. And her scent—fresh linen, lavender and woman.
She is promised to Christ, you lummox.
Aye, she was. And he to Satan.
’Twas then he remembered what he’d planned to say to her. He’d thought through the words all night, shaped them in his mind. ’Twas time to speak them. “’Tis sorry I am about your father, Miss Chauvenet. If I could call back the ball that stole his life, I would.”
She met his gaze, a look on her young face that might have been astonishment—or anger. When she spoke, her voice quavered. “H-how can you speak to me of him?”
“There’s naugh’ I can say to ease your grief. I ken that. But I am deeply sorry that you should suffer, and I ask your forgiveness.”
Unable to breathe, Amalie looked into the Ranger’s blue eyes and saw only sincerity. It was the same earnestness she’d seen in the eyes of wounded soldiers who’d asked her to pray for them—the naked honesty of men who knew they were about to die and sought to make peace with the world.
As upset by the Ranger’s unexpected apology as she was by Lieutenant Rillieux’s loathsome kiss, she turned away, at a loss for words. She dipped the cloth back into the water, only vaguely aware of what she was doing.
How dare either of them! How dare Lieutenant Rillieux kiss her, knowing full well that she did not wish to marry him! And how dare the Ranger ask her forgiveness! He hadn’t trodden upon her foot, after all! He and his men had slain her father, stealing the joy from her life, filling her nights with grief and loneliness.
“What kind of man are you, Major MacKinnon?”
“Just a man.”
His humble answer shamed her. In God’s eyes he was just a man, oui, but here on Earth he was a British officer, a Ranger, a legend among both his people and hers. But now he was in her care, a wounded man and condemned to die. And he had asked as respectfully and gravely as any man might for her forgiveness.
How could she deny him and yet call herself Catholic?
Without forgiveness, Amalie, there can be no peace.
The Mère Supérieure’s stern voice echoed through her mind.
Amalie slowly turned to face him, the damp cloth in hand. He was watching her, his gaze gentle, a strange contrast to the fierceness of his appearance—bruised cheek, shackles, beard, warrior marks. “I… I loved him very much. He was my only real family. He was killed last summer in the first attack while I was here in the hospital helping the wounded. I thought for a time that he had survived, but—”
“Sweet Mary, you were here during the battle?” He stared at her, his blue eyes filled with what could only be dismay.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded, looking down at her hands, trying not to remember that terrible day.
“Och, lass, ’tis sorry I am that you should have seen it. War is bloody and cruel. It makes monsters of men. ’Tis no place for a woman.”
“It was awful.”
“Aye, that it was.”
Something in the tone of his voice made her look up, and she knew by the lines on his face that he had his own terrible memories. “You lost someone, too.”
“Aye, many. Good men and true. They died for nothin’, pawns in a war not of their makin’.” The last words were spoken with a measure of bitterness.
She understood bitterness. “I have hated the Rangers since that day.”
He grinned — a sad, lopsided grin. “And do you hate me?”
“I have tried to hate you, monsieur.” She lifted her chin, fighting to ignore the way his smile touched her. “But I fear I have not succeeded as I should have liked.”
He chuckled, a warm, deep sound. “Dinnae judge yourself too harshly. I’d wager there is little hatred in you, and ’tis hard to loathe an enemy you have helped to heal.”
She looked into his eyes and wondered how he saw through her so clearly. “Oui, Major MacKinnon, I forgive you. May God rest my father’s soul.”
And a weight she hadn’t known she was carrying lifted off her shoulders.