Brianna and Roger
June 1767, backwoods of North Carolina
As her horse reared back, nickering in dismay, Brianna rushed to soothe her. Antigone, she had been named, and it seemed Brianna was just as doomed as her namesake.
“It’s all right,” she reassured her mount softly, patting her on the head lightly, and tightening her grip on the reins.
Her cousin had been kind enough to grant her a horse and some provisions for her journey, while her Aunt Leticia looked on sadly. Leticia knew she would not wait for her husband to collect her, nor the Browns to collect their reward. He would not abandon his kin, or so he’d claimed, but he would not protect her either.
She wished she’d torn up that deed when she had the chance.
It was growing dark, and Brianna knew that she would have to stop and make camp. Luckily, she’d had some experience camping with her Auntie Jo in her own time, as well as with Fanny. She would continue for a short while longer and then stop for the night. It was a long ride to Wilmington, and she wanted to get there as soon as possible.
Unconsciously, her hand drifted to her covered belly. Before, during those months that she had spent with him, she had prayed for her own death, realizing that she would never see her parents, her siblings, not even Fergus again. She had prayed that Stephen would tire of her, that he had been lying when he said he would keep her under him always. Now though? She could only pray he did not catch up to her before she was able to reach the port.
Underneath the bodice of her gown, she was more conscious of the small bag she’d tucked between her breasts. It would not do to draw any attention to them, not any more than what she could help, but even a single diamond would secure her passage to Scotland. It would not be home, but it would be enough, she hoped.
For her sake, and her child’s.
“We’ll stop soo—,” Brianna’s reassurances died on her lips, as the rays of the shrinking sun highlighted the stone circle that lay before her in an otherwise barren field.
The same type of stone circle she had visited in British Columbia, at her auntie’s urging.
Why was there one here?
“Come on girl,” she encouraged Antigone, as she broke out into a gallop and reached the clearing in record time. Brianna glanced around, as she slid off of her horse. It was entirely deserted; hardly any grass grew nor were there trees to block the rays of the slowly sinking sun.
She shivered, now growing cold as she grew still. Here would have to do—she would set up camp, build a fire, warm herself up, and get some rest. Leading Antigone to a nearby tree, she secured her, taking care to take out the pistol that Leticia had slipped to her before she’d left Mackenzie Place.
It was a few hours later, and Brianna sat pleasantly drowsy and warm by the fire, on a pile of blankets when a high pitched cry startled her out of her reverie.
Brianna jumped up with a start, her hands trembling as she clutched at the pistol, desperately searching for the source of the voice.
Brianna strained to locate the cry, even as she was able to make out a distant figure, and then another, draw closer to her.
It couldn’t be—.
“Lizzie!” she cried out, running to meet them, as she instantly relaxed. Lizzie, with her short, dark brown hair that fell in gentle waves across her face, rode her own horse—a fact she’d been almost unbearably proud of, once she’d learnt at the stables.
Lizzie immediately jumped off of her horse, and ran into Brianna’s arms, the top of her head barely surpassing Brianna’s midsection. Brianna squeezed her tightly, trying to hold back her sobs, as she realized she was not alone.
“Why are you here?” she cried. “Leticia said she’d watch over you for me, how—”. Brianna glanced up, finally taking in Lizzie’s companion and escort.
It was dark and the moon and the licking flames of the fire cast very few shadows of light, but she was still able to make out the slanted, cat green eyes, and the harsh, high cheekbones, and utter stillness that pervaded his entire being.
Roger Mackenzie had come for her. Her grip tightened briefly around Lizzie, grateful that she held her in her arms, but unaware of his intentions in bringing her with him.
With ease she’d barely begun to feel herself again, one that spoke of a lifetime of riding, he slid off his horse, and took a step towards her.
“Did ye believe I would let you travel to Wilmington alone, woman?” he exclaimed tersely, his jaw tight.
A white-hot flash of anger shot through her, and Brianna lifted her chin. “My cousin saw no objection.”
“Aye, I’m certain he didn’t, Brianna, ” he drawled her name out like a curse, his gaze hard. “But I am not Himself. And you are but a woman. Ye should not be here alone,” he finished softly, his gaze drifting down to Lizzie, despite his earlier roughness.
“She shouldn’t be here,” Brianna said suddenly, wanting to hold Lizzie tighter, but forcing herself to relax her grip. For her own part, Lizzie was content to stay in her arms for a few moments longer, before she pushed Brianna back herself, and ran carelessly back to Roger, who allowed her to hold onto his leg. With Lizzie gone from her, Brianna tucked her hands back into her pockets, taking care to secure her grip on her pistol. She did not know if she would need it.
“Oh aye, and ye think she will last long with Leticia?” he scoffed. “Leticia needs a ladies maid, not another child to nurse. ‘Tis lucky you burned her indenture papers, otherwise, she would have been gone before I returned.”
Brianna looked away in annoyance. “What would you have me do then?” she challenged him, not allowing herself to look away. He took another step forward and Brianna’s fingers tightened around the pistol.
Roger seemed to have no immediate answer, looking away from her at the ground, seemingly in disgust. It was some time before he spoke, both of them so still that she was almost surprised that he had begun to speak again.
“He told me ye were to go to your husband.”
Before the words could finish leaving his lips, Brianna shook her head so violently, she was surprised she had not wrenched a muscle.
“He is not my husband,” she spat out, anger and fear swirling within her at once. She shook her head again, “you should not have brought her,” she said, motioning to Lizzie. “I cannot—”.
She could speak no further. How could she admit that she could not protect Lizzie, could not protect herself when she was to have a bairn on the way? Mother of the Bride, Stephen would find her soon, and she would be powerless to him.
“Oh aye, woman—ye can,” Roger growled, as she barely heard him issue a short command to Lizzie to go warm up by the fire and allow the adults to speak privately. Little Lizzie, the girl who’d been indentured and learned to obey while she could barely toddle on her own two feet, had done so without a whisper of a complaint. Within a few short moments, he had closed the gap between them, and they stood, nearly nose to nose. Brianna wanted to step back, to shrink away from him and the intensity of his gaze, but she refused to diminish herself further. “Ye must. ”
She was no longer a girl, but a woman—a mother.
“I am not his wife,” was all Brianna could say in response, somewhat weakly. Brief fumblings and stolen kisses with boys her own age had done little to prepare for Stephen’s handling of her, but she’d known from the moment she had been introduced to Roger Mackenzie at the plantation that he wanted her in his bed, under him. He’d never stared at her, never treated her differently, or even tried to touch her, but she knew. She had seen the look so many times, from her father to her mother, from her Uncle Ian to her Aunt Jenny....even Dougal to Geillis. To say nothing of Stephen. She wished she could tell herself that she had felt something, anything, other than pride and flattery when he had noticed her, in her own time.
Roger had not stared at her, nor touched her. If he saw that she needed help and he could provide it, he would, but otherwise, he kept his distance. It was the distance she felt, the distance he felt. The very air grew charged between them, from the moment he had let go of her hand in greeting. She felt him everywhere, even when he was not there. She felt disgusting and dirty, every time she thought about Roger and his large frame above hers in the dark of the night, just as she slid her fingers between her thighs to pleasure herself quietly before bed.
“I didn’t—he took me! We were not even handfast, the bastard! I have to leave before he finds me again.” In her agitation, she pulled her hands from her pockets and laced her fingers together, squeezing until it hurt, until she was grounded.
“Himself and the Browns see differently,” Roger stated, “ and so will the magistrate, Morna,” he called her by her false identity, the one she’d adapted with relative ease. “Ye did not endear yerself to them the brief time you held the deed to the Beardsley place. You need protection, the both of you,” he said, jerking his head towards Lizzie, who had curled up on the ground next to the fire.
“And you will protect me?” Brianna ignored his declaration for now. “By what? Escorting me to Wilmington to hand me over to Stephen—Mr. Bonnet?” she hastily corrected herself, seeing his nostrils flare as she referred to Stephen so casually. As a wife would.
“By all I hold holy, I do love you woman, and I dinna care if I am damned to hell for stealing another man’s wife.”
His confession, neither whispered nor shouted, was spoken honestly, plainly. With intent. She would not be leaving this clearing alone, she knew then.
“So I will trade his ownership for yours? I will not,” Brianna spoke harshly, but quietly, not wanting Lizzie to overhear their argument. With a surge of purpose, she pulled her elbow back to shove her hand back into her front pocket, to grab at the pistol she had kept concealed until then, when for the first time, Roger grabbed her wrist. Brianna tried to wrench it away, her breath heaving in harsh pants, as briefly she choked under the weight of her own fear.
“Listen to me woman!” he barked, as he used his other hand to take the pistol from her. “I wilna allow you to shoot me, nor will I harm you. Here,” he said, placing the pistol on the ground, facing the opposite direction and let go of her wrist in one swift movement. “Ye know as well as I that if ye go into Wilmington alone, Bonnet,” he spat the name out as filth was intended to be, “will seize upon ye. That is if the Browns dinna track you down themselves once they realize ye do not intend to go to Woolam’s Creek. I am to go to Scotland, back to my farm. I paid the Mackenzie for Lizzie,” he said, in a tone that was not entirely unsurprised at his cousin’s presumption, “and she should have her mother with her.”
He closed the space between them further. “I know that bastard hasna treated you kindly, and taken what should not have been his to take,” Brianna went entirely still at the insinuation, her heart flooding in her chest as she struggled to keep herself motionless. “If ye wish for me to escort you to Scotland and leave ye and the bairn then I will,” he vowed, and she knew he would keep his word. “But give me a year and a day, and I will care for your needs and hers, and never lay an unwilling hand on ye.”
Brianna let out a shuddering sigh, as she considered his vow. She could hardly believe what she was about to do—but she had to do it. Her parents had married for love, and she was not Stephen’s wife. The disgusting parody of a marriage, of abuse and coercion, would never take place. Of that, she was grateful for at least. His cool, methodical threats in the beginning, knowing that she took her Catholic faith seriously, had nearly been her undoing.
Her hands, trembling as they were, were able to open the front of her coat and she ran her hands down the front of her gown, until she rather deliberately cupped her belly, emphasizing her growing waistline. For the first time in a long time, she’d thanked God that she was as tall as she was. She assumed it would be another month or two until she began to show, but in the meantime, no one would know unless they’d seen her naked. He knew now, as did her Cousin and Leticia, and now he could keep his promise, or fuck off.
Brianna did not pull her hands away, even as she felt her baby kick within her, slightly shuddering at the motion, but also the crisp, cool air. She dared to meet Roger’s gaze, her face carefully blank.
His was still fixated on her midsection, so intent on staring it down, as though if he looked hard enough he would be able to see through her clothing, through her flesh, and into her womb itself.
Suddenly he knelt, pulling out his dirk from his boot at the same time, holding it up, as an offering, an oath, a promise. He spoke so quickly, she had hardly time to react in shock.
“I swear by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he intoned, his fingers gripping the dirk so tightly they shook, “and by the holy iron I hold, to give ye protection with my body even unto death, and my loyalty and fidelity. Take me as yer husband, I will regard the bairns as my own blood of my blood, and bone of my bone. If ever I should disregard this oath, I ask that this holy iron pierce my heart.”
Brianna’s face crumpled in tears, the pain and fear leeching away from her body, as all she could do was nod in response, and watch as Roger sliced open the palm of his hand cleanly, and marched over to Lizzie, who was fast asleep. He knelt over her, whispering a few words in Gaelic, ending the impromptu ceremony with dabbing a smear of his blood onto her forehead.
He returned to her feet, his hand hesitantly reaching out to her belly, swearing the same oath in Gaelic. Brianna covered his hand with hers, marveling in how warm they felt compared to her own. His hand gripped her waist possessively, and she forced herself to stay close to him.
“I cannot fulfil my wifely duties to you,” she confessed, startled as he pulled his hand from hers and rose to his feet, "not now. I know that you have needs,” she flushed slightly, glad that they were in near darkness, remembering how a few of the Mackenzie men had gotten deep into their cups one evening after dinner, and had amused themselves telling bawdy tales, something she hadn’t believed she could be shocked at, given the time period she had come from until each tale had progressively gotten filthier and filthier. In between that play-acting though, they enjoyed comparing the charms and assets of each local prostitute they’d had the fortune to secure for the next half hour, and had spent an inordinate amount of time complaining that Roger was too fastidious in his selection of feminine company and insulted the others, more often than not. "And I am your wife now," she hastily added, seeing his nostrils flare slightly, "but I ask that you grant me a few days to—."
"Did ye not hear me, woman?" he felt insulted by her clear insinuation, that much was clear. "If all I wanted was a quick fuck, I would have had you on your back in the stables from sunrise to sunset. You are my wife, and I have made you an oath." His gaze darkened, and his tone visibly softened. “Aye,” he agreed, looking her up and down, his eyes lingering at certain points, “I want yer body. I want ye under me, begging me to allow ye to finish as I bring you to the brink of pleasure again and again. I want ye in my bed waiting and wanting, knowing no other man can satisfy ye." The low pulse of desire that she always felt around Roger intensified, and she inhaled deeply, her cheeks coloring as she felt a new warmth between her legs, coupled with the fear-induced racing of her heart. "I want ye on your knees, with yer mouth full of my cock, knowing who your Lord and Master is. I want you, damn it. I’ll wait,” he promised hotly, “a year and a day. If ye wish to leave me, you will." Brianna doubted very seriously he would let her go anymore than Stephen had. "But until then ye are mine, my woman. My wife. But know this, hen,” he was so close to her now, that they were nearly nose to nose, and she could feel the warmth of his breath caress her cheeks, "if ye enter my bed, ye'll not leave it. Do ye understand me? I dinna care if it is six weeks from now or six months. Ye will be mine, as the child is. I wilna force any woman into my bed, but if ye consent, ye are mine until God sees fit to put me in the ground. I will have all of you, or none at all."
What other choice did she have? She wanted desperately to believe him, to weigh up everything she had known of him previously, and come to a solid conclusion she could trust. She had known Stephen, before, and she was still aching from his ministrations.
“I will,” she agreed hesitantly, betraying everything she felt, every doubt she held, and he knew it. She could tell by the way he held himself, stiffening with each passing moment, and she wondered if he would confront her further.
A few moments more passed, before he grasped her left hand, gently stroking her bare ring finger, before pulling off the simple ring he wore on his thumb. It was a somewhat burnished silver band, with a round, but small, ruby set flat and proud. "My father's," he stated somewhat tersely, his voice full of some emotion she could not yet identify. “Come let’s put the bairn to bed. We have to leave early tomorrow.” She allowed him to lead her past their horses, and towards their tent, allowing her sigh of relief to leave her body when she saw him gently pick Lizzie and her blankets off the ground and pull back the tent flap to deposit her inside.
Brianna scanned the area with the horses, seeing that there were a few more blankets tied on the back of the horses, and grabbed those too.
A sudden noise, a buzzing whooshed over her ears, and Brianna was shocked to see that Roger heard it too. His head poked from the tent almost as soon as it had begun, and he rushed to her side.
“Can ye hear that?” he asked, in puzzlement. “Where is it coming from?”
Brianna feigned ignorance, but could not contain her curious glances back to the stones. “Nothing,” she murmured, taking his hand carefully, as he led her to the tent she had erected earlier.
Lizzie had not woken up, had barely stirred when Roger had picked her up from the ground. It was one of the benefits of sleeping with her, Brianna soon realized. The girl slept like a log, and she was instantly reminded of the years she’d spent sleeping with Faith.
Roger arranged the blankets on either side of Lizzie, and somewhat deliberately laid on her right side, the closest to the flap of the tent, leaving Lizzie’s other side wide open for her to lay down. There was nothing else to do for Brianna but to snuggle up to Lizzie, and hope she had made the right decision for them all.
He would not force himself on her, she knew enough of him to have that reassurance, but she knew the year and a day was a timeline that meant nothing. She could pass through the stones, one day perhaps, but where would that leave Lizzie and her unborn child? She could not leave Lizzie, nor was she certain she would ever wish to go back. So much had changed since she'd last seen her parents and she didn't know if she could ever face them again. Her selfishness had led her into a predicament of her own making and it was only now that she could possibly make her choice into something good, something more.
But Roger was a Mackenzie, bastard or no. Dougal was a Mackenzie, as was her father and a Fraser to boot, but a Mackenzie in temper and looks. Her father would never have let her mother go, nor would Dougal and his sweet Geillie, the fucking viper. She was Roger's wife now and always would be. Where else would she go? If she wished to leave him in a year and a day, she would have to rely on his support until she found the means to support herself that did not rely on spending the jewels that she held in her possession. Lizzie already loved him and he had already gone through considerable expense to bring Lizzie to her. Her child would soon be born and what then?
Her mother, Geillis—they’d pledged themselves to a Mackenzie, to a brutal Viking heritage that had threatened to consume them. Stephen hadn’t drowned her yet, but she could not say the same for Roger. She could barely gasp for air around him, and he knew it, otherwise he would never have come. She was his now, and always would be.
He did not try to touch her, nor speak to her any further, but seemingly went to sleep as soon as he laid down. Brianna could not sleep, replaying his words in her head over and over again, until Lizzie woke her up the next morning.
Blood of my blood. Bone of my bone.
I will have you all, or not at all.
Ye are mine, my woman. My wife.
If ye enter my bed, ye'll not leave it.
They were his oaths to her, oaths he'd die to fulfil.