Excerpt from Scarlet Destiny
Stephan rode close to the river and when he heard men's voices, he dismounted and led the gray through the trees. When he saw Liberty, his joy was short lived, for she had just caught a fish and elated, had thrown herself into a tall Indian's arms. His thick black hair ruffled in the breeze as he swung her around. He was still laughing when he set her down, but Stephan had seen enough.
"Take your hands off my wife," he shouted. He dropped his horse's reins and came toward them.
Liberty wheeled around, dropped her fishing line and her forgotten catch flopped on the rocky shore. She ran to Stephan, but he raised his hand to stop her.
She slid to a halt. Stephan looked as though he hadn't slept in days. Several days grown of beard shadowed his cheeks and made his darkly menacing gaze all the more forbidding. He still looked awfully good to her.
"Father, come here, please. I'd like you to meet my husband, Stephan MacLeod."
The Indian came forward, swept his new son-in-law with an appraising gaze and offered his hand. "I'm Christian Hunter. Welcome to the family."
Stephan was too shocked to react for a moment, and then extended his hand. He had expected Liberty's father to be closer to his own father's age, but this man was no older than his elder brother. Liberty had her father's dark eyes, but there was nothing effeminate in the man's long-lashed gaze.
"I'm sorry to have shouted at you," Stephan offered sincerely, for his father-in-law understood what he'd assumed. Two young men approached and regarded him with such curious glances he knew they had to be Liberty's younger brothers.
"You have to be Eagle and Justice. Your map was a great help to me, Eagle."
The boys nodded, and Liberty gestured to summon the four other men in their camp. "These are our cousins, Joker, Cougar, Swift River and Fox. This is my husband, Stephan MacLeod."
While three of the Seneca braves offered hesitant smiles, Fox viewed Stephen with a narrow, insulting glance. He stepped to Liberty's side and with a hostile sneer, offered his opinion in his Iroquois tongue.
Her father cleared his throat. "Let me apologize for Fox's lack of manners."
"You're not responsible for his thoughts," Stephan insisted. "Go ahead and translate. I doubt it's anything I haven't heard."
"If you insist. He said you have the eyes of a ghost, with no love for your wife in your pale glance, and she deserves better."
Stephan's response was low, and caustic, "You come near my wife, and I'll kill you." He took Liberty's hand, led her away, and paused only long enough to grab his mount's reins. He went only fifty feet away to a place they could not be overheard, but he couldn't contain his temper.
"Did you give Fox a reason to believe you would welcome his attentions?"
Liberty yanked her hand free and would have slapped him but he caught her wrist before she could. "Did you come all this way to call me an adulteress?"
He kept hold of her, but she stood still rather than struggle against his firm grasp. "No, I came to take you home. Why didn't you trust me to protect you?"
She looked over her shoulder, but the others had gone back to the river. "I trust you, Stephan, but I can't go home when Judge Mapleton has hired someone to lie in court. It means he'll do anything to see me hang, and I won't help him by being there."
Stephan dropped her wrist. "I gave my word you'd attend the trial. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
He was bristling with anger, and she knew better than to touch him when it would be like petting thorns. "You are an honest man and your word is your bond, but Judge Mapleton has shown himself to be as despicable a bastard as his son. We can't beat him in court, Stephan, no matter how clever you are, and I'll not risk my life in an attempt to disprove that sorry point.
"I'm here because my father will know where I might hide, but how can you imagine I would invite Fox's attentions? He's right though, there's no love in your eyes when you look at me, but love wasn't part of our bargain, was it?"
He looked away. "Our marriage may have begun with a bargain, but that doesn't mean we can't learn to care for one another."
"How will you ever care for a woman you don't trust?" Liberty had been so glad to see him, but Fox's vision had been much clearer than her own. That she'd left home had insulted Stephan's pride. He hadn't come because he missed her so terribly he couldn't eat or sleep for wanting her. He was simply infuriated with her for not staying put.
"You needn't answer when we have another far worse problem. You just threatened Fox in front of his kin. Now he'll have to come back at you to redeem himself in their eyes."
He pulled his knife from its sheath at his belt. "I know ways to kill a man they haven't even imagined."
She didn't doubt it. "Stop it right now. You can't kill every man who looks my way, and why would you want to when I mean so little to you." She turned her back on him, awash in dread. Her father must believe she'd married a firebrand who seldom stopped to think, but Stephan was usually a thoughtful, reasonable man, or at least he had been before he'd married her.