* * *
Clara Fletcher didn’t need anyone to protect her.
If only her family could be convinced.
“The border is dangerous.” Drake paced the room, a sign her usually stoic brother was agitated. “With ye both living on Skye, there willna be Englishmen about to contend with when she goes to the village. Ye’ll no’ have to worry about them coming to the manor.”
“I can handle myself,” Clara said resolutely.
“It isna safe.” Drake frowned with concern.
“And bringing her to Skye where there are violent clan wars is any safer?” Mum’s fair face flushed. “She’s happy here. She’s made a life here. Why would ye uproot us like that?”
A coil of frustration tightened in Clara’s chest. “I’ll be happy anywhere. There’s no need to—”
“Clara will have a chance for a better life at Dunscaith.” Drake’s voice was firm.
Mum put her hands on her hips and huffed a sigh. “We have the manor.”
“’Tis no’ as safe as a castle,” Drake countered.
Anger burned in the back of Clara’s throat. She hated that everyone saw her as helpless, that her future had to be decided for her as if she were incapable of such a feat.
“I can care for myself.” She kept her tone neutral so they wouldn’t detect her malcontent. “I’m fine here where I can—”
“Ye see?” Mum lifted her chin triumphantly. “She wants to stay. We’ll remain here.”
A muscle worked in Drake’s jaw. “Nay.”
Clara gritted her teeth. She wanted to slam her fists onto the scarred wooden table and scream at them both to stop. Her unending patience had hit its ragged bottom, and there was nothing left to scrape up.
She pushed herself from the bench, strode from the kitchen and climbed the stairs to her bedchamber. No one stopped her. No one so much as bothered to call out. This decision was one they intended to make for her as if she were inept.
The room was quiet, the way it’d been since her younger sister left nearly a year ago. Once, she’d shared the space with both her sisters. In those days, it had been filled with chatter and laughter.
Clara had loved those days.
Her eldest sister, Faye, had forever been trying to style Clara’s hair a certain way or put her in a new kirtle, having long since given up on doing as much with their youngest sister, Kinsey.
There had been disagreements, aye. But there had also been quiet nights where they talked to one another in the darkness. There had been comfort when one of them hurt, and there had been love.
Angry voices rose from the kitchen as Drake and Mum continued to argue Clara’s fate.
“She canna fend for herself,” Drake said.
“She can,” Mum shot back. “She just willna do it. She’s too gentle.”
Clara’s gaze slid to the trunk at the foot of her bed where she kept her daggers. A costly set of ten, all polished and sharpened to a razor’s edge. She could defend herself; her mother was correct. After years of practice, Clara could hit the center of a target every time, no matter the distance.
If she could see it, she would hit her mark.
But Mum was right, she couldn’t bring herself to harm another person. Was that what made them think her so weak?
If being humane was the essence of defenseless, then Clara would accept the harsh judgment. Putting life above emotion took a strength—one she was proud of.
“Ye’d have her closer to yer grandda?” Mum demanded below, the fiery temper she shared with Kinsey breaking through her control.
Clara winced at the reminder of how Faye had been abducted by their grandfather, the Ross clan Chieftain. Aye, her marriage had worked out well, but the unrest between their family and their unwanted patriarch had been a point of much pain.
There was no good solution. If she chose to remain in Castleton, Drake would worry about them being on the border between England and Scotland. If she chose to go to Dunscaith Castle on the Isle of Skye, where Kinsey lived with her new husband, Mum would be nearer to the father she loathed with such intensity.
Clara didn’t care where she went. She would find a way to be happy. She always did— even if the feeling had to be forced for a while.
She was not happy now. How could she be, when the fate of her wellbeing was tearing her family apart?
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