Seduction of a highland.., p.33
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       Seduction of a Highland Lass, p.33
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         Part #2 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
Page 33

 

  Keeley smiled brightly. “ ’Tis no need. There is nothing to discuss. I hear the king arrives in two days’ time. Congratulations on your marriage. I’m sure you must be breathless with excitement. ”

  She turned and hurried down the hall, Rionna’s troubled gaze following her the entire way.

  Alaric swung his sword in a wide arc and sent his opponent’s shield flying through the air. ’Twas the fourth man he’d dispatched in as many minutes, and he whirled, looking for his next adversary.

  His men stood at a wary distance, none stepping up to challenge.

  Then Caelen stepped in front of him, flipping his sword in a casual manner that was blatantly mocking—and challenging.

  “You’re spoiling for a fight, brother. ’Tis the truth so I’m more than willing to oblige you. ”

  Alaric scowled. “I’m in no mood for your baiting. ”

  Caelen lifted an eyebrow. “Baiting? We both want the same thing. Quit wasting time and raise your sword. ”

  Without pausing to wonder why Caelen was spoiling for a fight, Alaric lunged and swung his sword. Caelen easily danced out of the way and thrust his sword down to parry Alaric’s thrust.

  The clang of metal rang out over the courtyard and in a matter of moments an excited murmur rose. Both McCabe and McDonald men surged forward to form a circle around the two brothers.

  At first Alaric took it easy, pacing himself and measuring his blows, but it quickly became obvious that Caelen had no patience for a simple sparring.

  Rage glittered in his brother’s eyes and his jaw was set in a line so tight that it bulged with every thrust of his sword.

  With a savage sound of satisfaction, Alaric threw himself into the battle. All the frustration that had mounted over the last weeks came boiling out, and he took it out on his younger brother.

  He needn’t have worried. Whatever had Caelen so furious, it was fueling his strength, and the two men were snarling gladiators.

  Their battle quickly became a matter of wagering, as sides were decided upon and shouts of encouragement rose above the clash of metal and the loud grunts of the two opponents.

  A short distance away, Ewan watched the battle in silence. He made no effort to intervene. He wasn’t a stupid man. His two brothers had blood in their eyes. He had every faith that they wouldn’t actually kill each other. How badly they injured themselves was another matter entirely. But he wasn’t about to step into the fray and risk a severed limb or broken bone.

  He wasn’t entirely certain what was driving Caelen’s rage. But he’d find out.

  The hour was late and most of the keep was solidly abed by now, and yet Keeley lay in her bed wide awake as the events of the day caught up to her. It had been an exhausting time and she wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold up under the strain without cracking.

  She’d heard of no controversy involving Laird McDonald, so she could only surmise that Caelen had kept his word and told no one of the laird’s attack on her.

  Her fingers curled into a fist and she had to make herself relax and filter the rage from her blood. She would have liked to have killed the bastard. Her only satisfaction was that he hadn’t got the best of her and she hadn’t been so paralyzed with fear that she hadn’t been able to defend herself.

  She would have leaped from the window before allowing Laird McDonald to violate her.

  What she really wanted was to march down the hall to where the bastard had stayed sequestered in his chamber all day and hit him again.

  A soft knock at Keeley’s door had her sitting straight up in bed. She reached for a wrap and hastened to answer, worried that something had gone wrong with Mairin or the babe.

  When she opened the door, she was stunned to see Rionna standing in the doorway, her expression indecipherable.

  “Rionna?”

  “Keeley,” Rionna greeted softly. “Can I come in?”

  Keeley gripped the door until her knuckles were white. She didn’t want to have this conversation with Rionna. She didn’t want to talk to the woman at all. ’Twas enough that she knew she would wed with Alaric in a little more than a day’s time.

  But she couldn’t avoid the inevitable forever. ’Twas better to have the conversation in privacy where they wouldn’t chance being overheard.

  She relaxed her grasp on the door and opened it wider. “Aye, come in. ”

  Rionna walked in and Keeley shut the door behind her. Keeley walked across the floor to sit on the edge of her bed. She wouldn’t give Rionna the advantage and allow her to know how unsettled she was by her visit.

  Rionna rubbed her hands down the men’s trews she wore and flexed her fingers in a nervous gesture. “There is much I would say to you, Keeley. Beginning with the fact that I am overjoyed that you are alive and well. I feared so much that something terrible had happened to you. ”

  Bitterness welled up and before Keeley could call back the words, she blurted out, “ ’Tis an odd thing to say given how I was turned from my home and left to survive on my own. ”

  Rionna shook her head, pain glittering in her golden eyes. “Nay. Not on your own. ”

  Keeley pushed herself from the bed and stood with trembling legs. “You did not even send for me after your mother passed, and you knew the truth, Rionna. You knew. ”

  Rionna bowed her head. “Aye, I knew. I’ve always known. ’Tis a terrible thing for a lass to know about her father. Why do you think I always preferred to play outside the keep, away from my father? I saw the way he looked at you, Keeley. I knew and I despised him for it. ”

  Keeley’s mouth gaped open. She couldn’t even form a response, so shocked was she by Rionna’s words.

  Rionna reached out and touched Keeley’s arm. “Please, sit down and listen to what I have to say. ”

  Keeley hesitated.

  “Please,” Rionna whispered.

  Keeley slumped down on the bed and Rionna took the place next to her, though she kept a distance between them.

  Rionna twisted her fingers nervously in front of her and focused her stare on the opposite wall.

  “I was devastated when my mother labeled you a whore and turned you out of the keep. I knew what had happened and I was furious with her for blaming you. She was a prideful woman, and she would have died if anyone had known the truth. ’Twas no excuse. I was angry with her until the day she died for not protecting you as she would me. I always wondered …”

  Rionna took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I’ve always wondered what she would have done if it had been me. Would she have cried me whore? Would she have pretended it didn’t happen? Would she have turned against her own daughter to save her pride?”

  Keeley swallowed against the huge knot in her throat. There was so much pain and shame in Rionna’s voice. She ached to reach out and enfold her in her arms.

  “She pretended as though you didn’t exist,” Rionna said painfully. “I used to lie awake at night worried about how you fared and how you would survive. ”

  “And yet you did or said nothing after your mother died,” Keeley said bitterly.

  Rionna sighed, her face creased with unhappiness. “The people who came to you for aid, the ones who always gave you coin or venison from the hunt, those were sent by me. ’Twas the only way I could be sure you were cared for and that you had what you needed. ”

  Keeley called back the mounting grief and clenched her hands tight so she didn’t break down. “What I needed was your love and support, the support of my clan. Have you any idea how it felt to be cast out and to know that I could never return, and that to the people who’d raised and loved me since birth I was now dead?”

  Rionna reached over and gingerly took her hand, as if she were afraid that Keeley would jerk it away.

  “I couldn’t let you come back, Keeley. ”

  Keeley’s head jerked up and she stared in confusion at her cousin. “Why?”

  Shame crowded Rionna’s eyes and she
looked away, tears brimming in the golden orbs.

  “He was obsessed with you, Keeley. He would have never left you alone. The only way I could protect you was to make sure you stayed away from my father. You would have never been safe with him near. ”

  Keeley’s heart lurched. The truth of Rionna’s words hit her with the force of a fist. She’s seen the lust in Laird McDonald’s eyes. She’d felt his desperation. ’Twas as if the last years hadn’t existed and he’d waited this long to have his chance at her.

  “Oh, Rionna,” Keeley whispered.

  “ ’Tis part of the reason I agreed to the marriage with Alaric McCabe,” Rionna continued. “If my father were no longer laird, I could have welcomed you back in your home. The McCabes are honorable. Alaric would have never allowed my father to harm you. We could be sisters again. ”

  Keeley’s eyes stung. Her throat throbbed with unshed tears and her heart ached for the lost innocence of two young girls.

  “I’ve never forgotten you, Keeley. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t worried for you. I’ve always loved you as a sister, and I know you have reason to be angry. I wouldn’t blame you if you never forgave me, but I did the only thing I could do to keep you safe. ”

  Keeley leaned forward and pulled Rionna into a hug. They gripped each other for several minutes, both of them sniffling as they battled their tears. Keeley didn’t even know what to say. She’d harbored her hurt for so long but now she understood that Rionna had suffered just as much.

  “I was so worried when I was told you were gone from your cottage,” Rionna said as she pulled away. “How did you come to be with the McCabes?”

  Guilt crowded uncomfortably into Keeley’s mind. How could she tell Rionna of all that had transpired and of her affair with Alaric? How could she hurt her with the knowledge that her future husband loved another? She felt no guilt for the lie she quickly crafted.

  “Laird McCabe had need of a healer, with his wife so close to her time. ’Twas a chance meeting, but he offered me a home and sanctuary and ’Twas an opportunity I could not pass up. ”

  Anxiety darkened Rionna’s gaze as she stared back at Keeley. “Are you happy here? Are you treated well?”

  Keeley smiled and took Rionna’s hand in hers again. “Aye. I am. The McCabes are my family. ”

  “I’m glad you’ll be here for my marriage to Alaric,” Rionna said. “There’s no one I’d rather have near than you. ”

  It took everything in Keeley’s power not to react to Rionna’s innocent statement.

  Impulsively, Rionna tugged Keeley into her arms again and squeezed her in a hug. “I don’t want to lose you again, Keeley. Promise me you’ll come to visit and that you’ll attend me at the birth of my first child. I don’t want years to go by between us again. ”

  Keeley closed her eyes and hugged Rionna fiercely in return. “Aye,” she croaked out. “I promise. ”

  CHAPTER 34

  Keeley watched from her window as Alaric walked with Rionna along the shore of the loch. It wasn’t the most private courtship. McCabes and McDonalds alike were posted as guards as the couple spent time together.

  While certainly not warm, the unseasonable temperatures made it comfortable to be outdoors, and in fact, the courtyard was alive with wedding preparations.

  With the king’s arrival, word had flown through the highlands, and neighboring clans were arriving to set up camp outside the McCabe walls.

  Gertie and the women of the keep ran themselves ragged trying to prepare enough food for the influx of visitors.

  It seemed the whole of the highlands buzzed with anticipation. War was imminent, and each clan wanted to make sure they allied themselves with the winning side.

  The king would openly declare his approval on the marriage between Rionna and Alaric and would also demand allegiance from the neighboring clans. With the bestowal of Neamh Álainn upon Ewan’s daughter, the McCabes would control the largest holding in Scotland apart from the king himself.

  It would be a day remembered for years to come.

  Her gaze drifted over to Alaric, who stood listening attentively to Rionna, though ’Twas the truth it looked more like Rionna was lecturing him.

  She’d known that Alaric was destined for greatness. As laird of the McDonalds, he would take his place alongside Ewan in the defense of the throne—and of their own clans.

  At that moment Alaric looked up and the breeze caught his braid. Her fingers itched to thread their way through the thick pelt of his hair. Their gazes met and grief spasmed over his face.

  Keeley withdrew, not wanting any witnesses to the exchange. She would do nothing to shame Rionna, no matter that her heart was breaking into a million pieces.

  A knock at her door interrupted the maudlin direction of her thoughts and she went eagerly to answer it, grateful for the distraction.

  To her surprise, Caelen loomed in her doorway. She stared up at him, unable to think of anything to say.

  Caelen didn’t look any more comfortable with the situation. He cleared his throat and scowled. “I thought you might like … that is, I thought you might not want to go down for the evening meal without an escort. ”

 
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