Never love a highlander, p.26
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       Never Love a Highlander, p.26
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         Part #3 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
Page 26

 

  He was inside her, not just physically, but in her heart and soul. He was all she could think of, all she could see and hear. He’d spoken of her carrying their future, but he was her future. He was all she wanted. All she needed.

  There was no sign of her rough, possessive lover this night. The man who’d so ruthlessly taken her so many nights past had been replaced by a gentle warrior who treated her as though she were infinitely fragile, a priceless treasure to be cherished above all else.

  He held her to him and stroked back and forth, gliding effortlessly through her damp heat. Through it all, his mouth never left her flesh. He kissed her lips, her cheeks, her eyelids, and then he nuzzled down to her ear and below to her neck.

  Never had she been so thoroughly worshipped by a man, not even by her husband till now. He’d loved her, aye. He’d loved her as well as a man could ever love a wife, but there was a marked difference this night.

  Tonight … ’twas as if he loved her with his heart instead of just his body. Tonight, she loved him not just with her body, but with her very soul.

  When she cried out with her release, he held her against him, not taking his own until he’d seen to her pleasure. Then and only then did he thrust deep and empty himself into her depths.

  Afterward, she snuggled into his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. He was hard and sticky between her thighs, but she cared not. She didn’t want to separate herself from him for the time it would take to cleanse them both.

  She held him close until his breathing became deep and even. He was wholly relaxed against her, limp and sated and so very warm.

  She sighed and stroked a hand over his shoulder, knowing he was already asleep.

  “I love you, husband. ’Tis the truth I never expected to give you my heart. I know not if it’s even what you want from me, but ’tis yours all the same. Someday … Someday I’ll have yours in return,” she whispered against his skin.

  She closed her eyes and settled against him, fatigue sliding over her skin like a blanket. Within moments she, too, slept.

  Caelen lay in the dark, his arms tight around Rionna as she slept. Her words echoed in his ears, playing over and over again until he knew they were no trick of his hearing.

  His wife loved him. He knew not what to make of this development. He’d loved before and it had come to no good and yet he knew that love existed. He’d seen it between his brothers and their wives. He knew his brothers loved their women with a ferocity uncommon to most marriages.

  Love required sacrifice. It required trust and faith. It required making yourself completely vulnerable to the one you loved.

  The thought sent a knot deep into his belly.

  The last time he’d offered a woman his complete trust and faith, she’d destroyed his clan.

  CHAPTER 26

  When Rionna woke the next morning, it was early still and the only light in the chamber came from the hearth and one lone candle on the wooden desk that housed Caelen’s personal belongings. He sat in silence, quill in hand as he scratched ink onto one of his scrolls.

  She watched, fascinated by the image he presented. His brow was creased in concentration and every once in awhile he dipped the quill back into the inkwell and then went back to his writings.

  ’Twas the first time she’d seen him using the scrolls, but now she wondered if he did so every morn before she woke. So many times she’d awakened to him sliding deep into her body, but perhaps he tended to personal matters first.

  She lay still, waiting for him to come to her, and took the opportunity to study her husband in secret.

  He was such a handsome man. He had a ruggedness that appealed to every one of her feminine instincts. Strong. Scarred, not perfect. Perhaps that would be a strike against him with another woman, but not Rionna. Her warrior’s heart embraced each mark as a badge of honor.

  There was a slight ridge on his nose that suggested it had been broken in the past. But his face was otherwise unblemished, chiseled by strong cheekbones and a firm jaw. His pale green eyes mesmerized her. They were an odd shade shared by his two brothers, and Rionna imagined her own babe with the same green eyes.

  A lass with her father’s dark hair and beautiful eyes. Rionna would need all of her fighting skills to keep the warriors from her daughter’s doorstep.

  She held her breath when Caelen put away his quill and carefully rolled the scroll closed. He stood and walked quietly over to the bed. Her entire body tingled in anticipation of his possession.

  But instead of grasping her hips and pulling her to the edge of the bed, he leaned down and brushed his lips across her forehead, letting them linger just a moment before he backed away and silently left the room.

  She stared after him, mystified and … disappointed. Her entire body was on edge. A pulsing ache had begun deep at her center and now her husband was gone and she was lying, staring at the ceiling.

  She let out a sigh and turned on her side to stare into the fire. Her gaze skirted over the writing table and the scrolls lying neatly to the side. What was it that Caelen wrote when he was alone with his thoughts?

  Caelen stood before the assembled clan, Rionna at his side. He addressed them from the balcony that jutted over the courtyard. Men, women, and children had gathered to hear the laird’s announcement and when he declared that Rionna was with child, the response was cheers from some and silence from others.

  Simon and Arlen stepped forward, their swords thrust high in the air, but even their stamp of approval didn’t sway many of the warriors.

  Hugh stepped up beside Simon and Arlen and glanced back at his kin before turning and looking up where Caelen stood with Rionna.

  “Will the bairn be a McDonald or a McCabe?”

  Caelen frowned. “A McCabe of course. ”

  Scowls spread through the assembled clansmen and grumbles rose. Many turned their backs and walked away.

  Rionna slid her hand into Caelen’s. He could feel her tremble. He squeezed to reassure her.

  “I’ll not tolerate disrespect toward my wife,” he said tightly.

  “ ’Tis not Rionna we disrespect,” one hollered up before also turning away.

  Caelen’s nostrils flared as he viewed the dismay on Rionna’s face. He’d had enough of his new clan and their animosity. ’Twas as if they wanted to be conquered and destroyed. He’d never been so sorely tempted to take his wife and return to McCabe lands and let the lot of them rot.

  It was time to take a much harder line. He’d coddled them too long. They’d either come around or they’d leave.

  Some of the joy had dimmed from Rionna’s eyes as she watched her clan turn their backs on her. She stared for a long moment before Caelen gently guided her back inside the keep.

  As soon as they walked in, Rionna tugged her hand from Caelen’s and tossed up her hands in disgust. “How can they be so foolish? If Cameron marches on us tomorrow, we wouldn’t have a chance. Our only hope is to hide behind a larger, stronger clan and allow them to do our fighting for us. ’Tis shameful. Never once have I been ashamed to call myself a McDonald, but today I weep over the disgrace. ”

  Caelen touched her shoulder in an effort to offer comfort. She didn’t need to be so distressed. Surely it couldn’t be good for the baby.

  It was hard to stand there and offer support when he was so furious he could barely see straight.

  She wrung her hands and paced back and forth on the landing above the stairs. “Maybe I should address them. I know you are against it, but perhaps I can make them see reason. ”

  Caelen held up his hand and waited for her to go quiet. “ ’Tis not your place to command these men, Rionna. I am their laird and we will not be a clan until they accept that. I cannot make them embrace their duty. ”

  “I would not blame you if you took your leave of this place and returned to your family,” she whispered. “Surely the McCabes can make a more honorable alliance than with my clan. ”
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  He pulled her into his arms and rested his chin atop her head. “We have time. Ewan will not make war when the winter is so harsh around us. I’ll not quit my duty. ’Tis not just a matter of your clan and mine now. This is my son or daughter’s future and I’ll not walk away from that. ”

  “What will you do then?”

  He pulled her away. “I want you to remain indoors. ’Tis cold today and a storm is brewing to the north. ”

  “And you?” she persisted.

  “I have matters to attend to with the men. ”

  Rionna looked fearful, but he wouldn’t back down. Not even for her. ’Twas past time for him to beat some sense into his clansmen. Talking had done no good. Neither had explaining their inadequacies. ’Twas time to show them.

  Leaving Rionna inside the keep, he strode out to the courtyard. “Assemble the men,” he said to Gannon. “I want every one accounted for. If one refuses, use whatever force necessary. Spare them no humiliation. ’Tis time to stop this senseless coddling. ”

  Gannon’s mouth twisted into a savage smile of satisfaction. “ ’Tis about bloody time. ” He drew his sword and stalked away, shouting the order to assemble once again.

  Caelen stood in the middle of the courtyard as the men gathered round, their expressions rife with speculation. He stared them down, his gaze stony and unyielding.

  When Gannon gestured to him that the last man had assembled, Caelen drew his sword and leveled the point toward the crowd and turned so they were all included in his gesture.

  “ ’Tis time to make a choice. If you are with me and accept me as your laird, you will step forward, make your pledge, and swear your allegiance. If you are nay accepting of me as your laird, then step forward with your challenge. If you are able to best me in battle, I’ll leave McDonald land and never return. ”

  A series of guffaws and sounds of disbelief spread through the crowd.

  “You intend to challenge us all?”

  The jeer came from the crowd.

  Caelen’s lip curled into a snarl. “I intend to show you that one McCabe warrior is worth a hundred of you. ”

  “I’ll take that challenge,” Jamie McDonald said as he stepped forward.

  He was a cocky lad, still afflicted by a brush of youth. He hadn’t yet proved himself a man, and Caelen shook his head.

  “You’re starting easy on me, I see. ”

  Jamie’s face flushed a dull red, and before Caelen could draw his sword the boy ran at him with a yell. Caelen dodged the clumsy charge, drew his sword, and brought his fist down on the boy’s head as he stumbled past. The lad went sprawling, his sword flying several feet in the other direction.

  Caelen shook his head in disgust. “No restraint. My wife wields a sword a hundred times better. ”

  Jamie picked himself up, his face a tight knot of fury at the insult.

  “Hard to fight without a sword,” Gannon drawled. He bent to retrieve the weapon and then tossed it to the side. “Stand aside, lad. You’ve been bested already. ”

  As the afternoon wore on, the swords piled higher, with Gannon tossing aside one after another. As Caelen dispatched the men, they were directed to sit to the side and watch as the next clansmen took up the charge.

  ’Twas obvious the more skilled warriors waited until last, when Caelen was tiring. It took him longer than he had liked to dispatch Oren McDonald, and the man actually managed to stagger Caelen before Caelen sent his sword flying toward the discard pile.

  When the next McDonald stepped forward, Caelen issued a silent groan. ’Twas Seamus McDonald, and he was a mountain of a man. Heavily muscled with legs and arms like tree trunks, a chest as broad as a boulder, and no neck to speak of.

  He wasn’t terribly adept with a sword, but he could smash a man with his bare hands.

  Sensing Caelen’s dismay, the McDonalds who were sitting surged to their feet and let out raucous cheers as Seamus and Caelen circled each other.

  Seamus thrust first and Caelen blocked it. The clash of steel rang out over the courtyard and more cheers went up.

  On the perimeter, the women had gathered as well as the older men who no longer acted as soldiers. The children were even present and a chant of “Seamus! Seamus! Seamus!” went up on all sides.

  Except one.

  Amidst the noise and chanting came a clear call of “Caelen! Caelen! Caelen!”

  His wife had pushed her way through the crowd and stood just on the outside of the fighting circle. To his eternal surprise she wore no man’s garb nor did she wield a sword. She was adorned in her wedding finery and her hair was upswept into an elegant knot, with tendrils escaping on all sides.

  She was so damn beautiful she took his breath away.

  Right before Seamus plowed into him, taking his breath away, and not in the metaphorical sense.

  The two men hit the ground and rolled. Caelen was at a decided disadvantage the moment his sword was knocked from his hand. Seamus was larger by half and he hadn’t had to fight every other McDonald warrior already.

  Seamus landed a beefy fist to the side of Caelen’s face and Caelen’s vision blurred. Colorful spots appeared before his eyes and he shook his head to clear his rattled brain.

 
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