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Irene stood on the shore, straining to see.
"Is it them?" a girl beside her asked. "Have they come home?"
Irene didn't answer. It looked like the right boat. The time was right. It should be them.
Her new husband had left with her father and three other men to meet the other clan chiefs. Their meeting would seal the peace they'd come to enjoy for another decade, another generation of children who didn't know war. They had left two weeks ago, and Irene had started watching the day before last when she wasn't busy in her home.
She smoothed her dress, hoping it was them, hoping she still pleased Owen. There had been a time when she would rub mud on her clothes and face to avoid his eye, a time when she wanted nothing but to be a free woman, able to fight her own fights and care for herself.
Owen had changed that. Slowly, carefully, he worked his way through her hard exterior, one built by six brothers and a clan chief. Her heart was well defended, but he'd stolen it anyway. She would walk across this lake to reach him if she had to.
"Can you see?" an older woman next to her asked.
Irene shook her head. Not yet, just a boat with men in it.
She covered her mouth in shock when an arrow arced from the boat to land with a thunk into the wood planks of their dock.
"Everyone back!" she shouted. "Tell the men! Get them ready!" Irene hefted her skirt and ran from the shore. In her tidy home she yanked off the garment and pulled on one of Owen's tunics instead, her legs bare beneath. She also took his second sword, a gift from her father, and her own bow and quiver, which she hadn't picked up in years. Squaring her shoulders, she went to join her brothers on the beach.
"What are you doing?" Sean asked. "If they take you, you know what they will do."
They would rape her. They would steal her body as Owen had stolen her heart. He still had it. Without it, her body meant nothing. "Let them try," she said, pulling back her arrow and sending it into the boat. One man fell out, splashing into the water.
Sean laughed. "I forget how fierce you are. I'm afraid for them," he lied, pulling back his own bow to fire.