Cinaed looked up into a woman’s face. Fine black eye-
brows arched over brown eyes that were focused on his
chest. Thick dark hair was pulled back in a braid and
pinned up at the back of her head. Intent on what she
was doing, she was unaware that he was awake.
Her brow was furrowed, and lines of concentration
framed the corners of her mouth. The grey travel dress
she wore was plain and practical. She was not old, but
not young either. Not fat, not thin. From where he lay, he
guessed she was neither tall nor short. She was beautiful,
but not in the flashy way of the women who generally
greeted sailors in the port towns. Nor was she like the
eyelash-fluttering lasses in Halifax who never stopped
trying to get his attention after a Sunday service. He
didn’t bother to assess the pleasant symmetry of her face,
however. The “brook no nonsense” expression warned
36 May McGoldrick
that she wasn’t one to care what others thought of her
But who was she?
The last clear memory he had was seeing a flash from
the shore. The next moment his chest had been punched
with what felt like a fiery poker. Everything after that
floated in a jumbled haze. He recalled being in the water,
trying to swim toward some distant shore. Or was he
struggling to reach the longboat again?
Cinaed didn’t know what part of his body hurt more,
the fearsome pounding in his head or the burning piece
of that poker still lodged in his chest.
“Where am I?” he demanded. “Who the deuce are
Startled, she sat up straight, pulling away and scowl-
ing down at him. In one blood-covered hand, she held a
needle and thread. In the other, a surgeon’s knife that she
now pointed directly at his throat.
“Try to choke me again and I’ll kill you.”
“Choke you? For the love of God, woman!”
His ship. The reef. The explosion. He closed his
eyes for a moment and tried to clear away the fog.
Everything he’d been through struck him like a broad-
The Highland Crown was gone. He’d detonated the
powder himself. Where were his men? He’d climbed into
the last longboat. They’d been fired at from the beach.
He’d been shot.
Cinaed grabbed the knife-wielding wrist before she
could pull it away. “Where are my men?”
An ancient woman in Highland garb slid into his line
of sight behind the younger one. She was making sure he
saw the cudgel she had over one shoulder.
“This one is worth less than auld fish bait, mistress,”
she taunted. The crone was ready and obviously eager to
use that club. “And thankless, too, I’m bound. I was right
when I said ye should never have saved him.”
Should never have saved him. He released the wrist,
and the hand retreated. But the dark-haired woman didn’t
move away. As if nothing had happened, she dropped
the knife on the cot, out of his reach. The brown eyes
again focused on his chest, and she put her needle back to
He winced but kept his hands off the woman.
By all rights, he should be dead. A musket ball had cut
him down and knocked him into the water. He should in-
deed be finished. Someone on shore had tried to kill him.
But he was alive, and apparently he owed his life to
this one. Gratitude flowed through him.
“Want me to give him another knock in the head?” the
old witch asked.
“Last stitch. Let me finish,” she said in a voice lacking
the heavier burr of the northern accent. “You can kill him
when I’m done.”
A sense of humor, Cinaed thought. At least, he hoped
she was joking. She tied off the knot, cut the thread, and
straightened her back, inspecting her handiwork. He
lifted his head to see what kind of quilt pattern she’d
made of him. A puckered line of flesh, topped by a row
of neat stitches, now adorned the area just below his
collarbone. He’d been sewn up by surgeons before, and
they’d never done such a fine job of it. He started to sit
up to thank her.
36 May McGoldrick
That was a grave mistake. For an instant, he thought
the old woman had used her cudgel, after all. When he
pushed himself up, his brain exploded, and he had no
doubt it was now oozing out of his ears and eye sockets.
The taste of bilge water bubbled up in his throat.
“A bucket,” he groaned desperately.
The woman was surprisingly strong. She rolled him
and held a bucket as his stomach emptied. She’d been ex-
pecting this, it appeared. However horrible he was feeling
before, it was worse now as the room twisted and rocked
and spun. Long stretches of dry heaves wracked his body.
“Blood I can deal with,” the old woman grouched from
somewhere in the grey haze filling the room. He heaved
again. “By all the saints!”
“I’ll clean up later. Don’t worry about any of this. Go
sit by the fire, Jean. You’ve had a long night.”
Cinaed felt a wet cloth swab the back of his neck and
Jean mumbled something unintelligible about “weak-
bellied” and “not to be trusted” and “a misery.” When he
hazarded a glance at her, she was glaring at him like
some demon guarding the gates of hell.
“Does my nephew know that yer a doctor?” she asked,
not taking her eyes off of him as she snatched up the knife
and handed it to the younger woman.
A doctor! He lifted his head to look at her again. She
was definitely a woman. And a fine-looking one, at that.
He was still breathing, and she’d done an excellent job
on whatever damage had been done to his chest by the
bullet. But the possibility of any trained physician, or even
a surgeon, being here in this remote corner of the High-
lands was so implausible. Male or female.
“But ye say yer not a midwife,” Jean persisted, a note
of disbelief evident in her tone. “And not just a surgeon,
in spite of all them fine, shiny instruments in that bag of
“I trained as a physician at a university. But I’m find-
ing that my abilities as a surgeon have more practical uses
wherever I go.”
University trained. Cinaed stole another look at her.
She had an air of confidence in the way she spoke and
acted that convinced him that she was telling the truth.
And for the first time since the Highland Crown struck
that reef, he wondered if his good fortune was still hold-
ing, if only by thread. Lady Luck, apparently, had sent
him Airmid, his own goddess of healing.
Long-forgotten words, chanted over some injury, came
back to him from childhood. Bone to bone. Vein to vein.
Skin to skin. Blood to blood. Sinew to sinew. Marrow to
marrow. Flesh to flesh . . .
From the floor, she retrieved a bowl containing bloody
cloths. A musket ball lay nestled like a robin’s egg on
the soaked rags. By the devil, he thought, his admiration
nearly overflowing. She’d not only stitched him together,
she’d dug the bullet out of him.
The deuce! He’d never seen anyone like her. Frankly,
he didn’t care if she came from the moon to practice
medicine here. He owed his life to her.
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