Never love a highlander, p.2
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       Never Love a Highlander, p.2
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         Part #3 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
Page 2

 

  Rionna’s eyes were glazing over and she wasn’t entirely sure it was due to the lengthy accolades being tossed about. Her goblet had been refilled more times than she remembered but she drank on, ignoring the way it swirled around in her belly and made her head swim.

  Laird McCabe had decreed that despite the many issues that bore discussion and the decisions that must be made, today would be spent in celebration of his brother’s marriage.

  Rionna suspected that Mairin had everything to do with that decree. She needn’t have bothered, though. There was little cause for celebration in Rionna’s mind.

  She glanced sideways to see Caelen sitting back in his chair, lazily surveying the occupants of the table. He tossed back an insult when one was flung his way by one of the McCabe men. Something to do with his manhood. Rionna shuddered and purposely blanked her mind to the innuendo.

  She gulped down another mouthful of the ale and put the goblet back down on the table with a bang that made her wince. No one seemed to notice, but then it was unbearably loud.

  The food before her swam in her vision, and the idea of putting it to her mouth, despite Caelen having cut the meat into bite-sized morsels, turned her stomach.

  “Rionna, is anything amiss?”

  Mairin’s soft inquiry jolted Rionna from her semi-daze. She glanced guiltily up at the other woman and then blinked when Mairin suddenly became two people.

  “I should like to see Keeley,” she blurted.

  If the laird’s wife thought it odd that Rionna would wish to visit with Keeley on Rionna’s wedding day, she didn’t react.

  “I’ll go up with you if you like. ”

  Rionna sighed in relief then started to rise from her seat. Caelen’s hand snapped around her wrist and he tugged her back down, a frown marring his features.

  “I wish to see Keeley since she wasn’t able to attend my wedding,” Rionna said. “With your permission, of course. ”

  She nearly choked on the words.

  He studied her for a brief moment then relaxed his grip on her wrist. “You may go. ”

  It sounded so imperious. So … husbandlike.

  Her stomach heaved as she excused herself to the laird. Married. Jesus wept, but she was married. She was expected to submit to her husband. To obey him.

  Her hands shook as she followed Mairin toward the stairs. They walked quietly up, one of Ewan’s men tagging along behind, but then Mairin went nowhere without an escort.

  Merciful heaven, would she be expected to be led about by the reins now that she was married to Caelen? The idea of being unable to go anywhere or do anything without someone breathing down her neck suffocated her.

  At Keeley’s door, Mairin knocked softly. Alaric answered, and Mairin spoke in low tones with her brother by marriage.

  Alaric nodded and stepped out but then said, “Try not to be overlong. She tires easily. ”

  Rionna glanced at the man who would have been her husband and couldn’t help a silent comparison between him and his younger brother. The man she now found herself wed to.

  There was no doubt both were fierce warriors, but she still couldn’t help but feel she would have preferred marriage to Alaric. He didn’t seem as … cold … as Caelen. Or indifferent. Or … something.

  She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but there was something in Caelen’s eyes that unsettled her, that made her wary, like prey poised to flee a predator. He made her feel tiny, defenseless. Feminine.

  “Rionna,” Alaric said with a nod. “Congratulations on your marriage. ”

  There was still a hint of guilt in his eyes, and truly, she wasn’t resentful. Not of why he hadn’t married her. His falling in love with Keeley hadn’t quite managed to banish her humiliation of being jilted, though. She was working on it.

  “Thank you,” she murmured.

  She waited until Alaric passed her and then she entered Keeley’s chamber.

  Keeley lay propped on an abundance of pillows. She was pale and lines of fatigue etched grooves on her forehead. Still, she smiled weakly when her gaze met Rionna’s.

  “So sorry I missed your wedding,” Keeley said.

  Rionna smiled and went to her bed. She perched on the edge so she wouldn’t cause Keeley pain and then gingerly reached for her hand.

  “ ’Twas not of import. I barely remember it myself. ”

  Keeley snorted and a spasm of pain crossed her face.

  “I had to see you,” Rionna whispered. “There was something … I wanted to seek your counsel on something. ”

  Keeley’s eyes widened in surprise and then she glanced beyond Rionna to Mairin. “Of course. Is it all right if Mairin stays? She’s completely trustworthy. ”

  Rionna cast a hesitant glance in Mairin’s direction.

  “Perhaps I should go down and fetch us some ale,” Mairin suggested. “ ’Twill give you time to speak freely. ”

  Rionna sighed. “Nay, I’ll wait. ’Tis the truth I could use the counsel of more than one woman. Keeley is newly married after all. ”

  A soft blush suffused Keeley’s cheeks and Mairin chuckled. “I’ll send for the ale then, and we’ll talk. You have my word, naught will pass the doors of this chamber. ”

  Rionna looked gratefully at Mairin, and then Mairin went to the door and conversed with Gannon, the warrior who’d accompanied them up the stairs.

  “How easily is sound carried through the doors?” Rionna whispered to Keeley.

  “I can assure you that nothing can be heard from the halls,” Keeley said, a twinkle in her eyes. “Now what matter would you like to discuss?”

  Rionna dutifully waited until Mairin returned to Keeley’s bedside and then she licked her lips, feeling the worst sort of fool for exposing her ignorance.

  “ ’Tis about the marriage bed. ”

  “Ah,” Mairin said knowingly.

  “Ah, indeed,” Keeley said with a nod.

  Rionna blew out her breath in frustration. “What am I to do? What am I supposed to do? I know nothing of kissing and coupling or … anything. ’Tis a sword and fighting I have knowledge of. ”

  Mairin’s expression softened and the amusement fled from her eyes. She covered Rionna’s hand with her own and squeezed. “ ’Tis the truth that not too long ago, I was in your same position. I sought out the counsel of some older ladies of the clan. ’Twas an eye-opening experience to be sure. ”

  “Aye, as did I,” Keeley admitted. “It isn’t as though we’re born with such knowledge, and none of us had mothers to guide us through such things. ” She cast an apologetic look to Rionna. “At least I assume your mother never discussed such delicate issues with you. ”

  Rionna snorted. “She despaired of me from the time I grew breasts. ”

  Keeley’s eyebrows rose. “You grew breasts?”

  Rionna flushed and glanced down at her bosom. Her flat bosom. If Keeley—or anyone—actually knew what lay beneath the wrappings … Her husband would know soon enough, unless Rionna figured out a way to consummate a marriage fully clothed.

  Mairin smiled. “ ’Tis not so difficult, Rionna. The men do most of the work, as they should in the beginning. Once you learn your way around, well, then you can certainly do all manner of things. ”

  “Alaric is wonderful at loving,” Keeley said with a sigh.

  Mairin colored and cleared her throat. “ ’Tis the truth I didn’t think Ewan overly skilled at first. Our wedding night was hastened by the fact that Duncan Cameron’s army bore down on us. ’Twas an insult Ewan took exception to and made great effort to remedy. With very satisfying results, I might add. ”

  Rionna’s cheeks warmed as she glanced between the two women. Their eyes became all dreamy and soft as they spoke of their husbands. Rionna couldn’t imagine ever having such a reaction to Caelen. He was simply too … forbidding. Aye, that was an apt description.

  A knock at the door interrupted the discussion and the women went silent. Mairin issued
a summons, and Gannon stepped inside, a disapproving look on his face.

  “Thank you, Gannon,” Mairin said, as he set the flagon and the goblets on the small table beside Keeley’s bed. “You may go now. ”

  He scowled but backed out of the room. Rionna glanced up at Mairin, curious as to why she accepted such insolence from her husband’s man. Mairin simply smiled smugly as she poured the ale into the goblets.

  “He knows we’re up to mischief and it’s killing him to say nothing. ”

  She handed Rionna a goblet and then carefully placed one into Keeley’s hand.

  “ ’Tis the truth it will dull the pain,” Keeley said.

  “I’m sorry, Keeley. Would you like me to go? I have no wish to cause you further distress,” Rionna said.

  Keeley sipped at the ale and then leaned back against her pillows with a sigh. “Nay. I’m about to go mad being sequestered in my chamber. I welcome the company. Besides, we must ease your fears about your wedding night. ”

  Rionna gulped at her ale and then extended the goblet to Mairin for it to be refilled. She had a feeling she wasn’t going to like this conversation.

  “ ’Tis no reason to fear,” Mairin soothed. “I’ve no doubt Caelen will take care with you. ” Then she wrinkled her nose. “Give thanks you don’t have an army bearing down on you. ’Tis the truth I had no liking for my wedding night. ”

  Rionna felt the blood drain from her face.

  “Hush, Mairin. You aren’t helping,” Keeley chided.

  Mairin patted Rionna’s hand. “All will be well. You’ll see. ”

  “But what do I do?”

  “Exactly what is it that you know?” Keeley asked. “Let’s start there. ”

  Rionna closed her eyes in misery and then downed the entire contents of her goblet. “Nothing. ”

  “Oh dear,” Mairin said. “ ’Tis the truth I was ignorant, but the nuns at the abbey did see fit to provide me cursory information. ”

  “I think you should be honest with Caelen about your fears,” Keeley suggested. “He’d be a brute to ignore a maiden’s worry. If he has half of Alaric’s skill, you’ll not be left wanting. ”

  Mairin giggled at the boast, and Rionna held out her goblet for another round of ale.

  The very last thing she wanted was to talk to Caelen about her maidenly fears. The man would probably laugh at her. Or worse, give her that cool, indifferent gaze that made her feel so … insignificant.

  “Will it hurt?” she strangled out.

  Mairin’s lips pursed in thought. Keeley’s brow wrinkled a moment.

  “ ’Tis the truth it’s not overly pleasant. At first. But the pain passes quickly and if the man is skilled, it’s quite wonderful in the end. ”

  Mairin snorted. “Again, as long as there isn’t an army bearing down on you. ”

  “Enough with the army,” Keeley said in exasperation. “There is no army. ”

  Then the two women looked at each other and laughed until Keeley groaned and went limp against her pillows.

  Rionna just stared at them, never more certain that she had no desire to indulge in this marriage bed business. She yawned broadly and the room spun in curious little circles. Her head felt as though it weighed as much as a boulder, and it was harder and harder for her to hold it up.

  She stood from her perch on the edge of Keeley’s bed and started for the door, disgusted with her cowardice. She was acting … Well, she was acting just like a woman.

  To her utter dismay, she ended up at the window and she blinked in confusion as a blast of cold air hit her in the face and the corner of the furs blew up.

  “Careful, there,” Mairin said in her ear.

  She guided Rionna to a chair in the corner of the room and eased her down.

  “Perhaps ’tis best if you sit here awhile. It wouldn’t do for you to navigate those stairs, and we don’t want the men to know what we’ve been about. ”

  Rionna nodded. She did feel a bit peculiar. Aye, it would be best if she sat awhile until the room stopped spinning in such spectacular fashion.

  Caelen looked toward the stairs for what seemed like the hundredth time, and Ewan looked impatient as well. Rionna and Mairin had been gone for some time. It was late into the night and Caelen was ready to have done with the entire wedding celebration.

  Some celebration. His bride had been stiff and distant throughout the entire ceremony, and afterward she’d sat silent while the room celebrated around her.

  If her demeanor was anything to go by, she was even less thrilled than he with the match. It mattered naught. They were both bound by duty. And right now his duty was to consummate his marriage.

  His loins tightened, and the surge of lust took him by surprise. It had been a long while since he’d had such a strong reaction to a woman. But it had been thus since the day he’d laid eyes on Rionna.

  He’d been shamed by his reaction to his brother’s betrothed. It was disloyal and disrespectful to feel such a keen burning in his gut.

 
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