Seduction of a highland.., p.35
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       Seduction of a Highland Lass, p.35

         Part #2 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
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Page 35


  “I am grateful to call the McCabes my clan,” she said. “I am proud. ”

  Ewan smiled. “Go now. I’ll not keep you further. ”

  Keeley curtsied and hurriedly left the alcove and headed in the direction of the courtyard. She dodged through the throng of people and made her way to the hillside that overlooked the place where Alaric and Rionna would be wed.

  Pulling her shawl tighter around her to ward off the chill, she settled down on the brown patch of grass that had been covered by snow for so long.

  The brisk wind soothed her and numbed some of the pain that still clawed through her chest. The sun shone high overhead and warmed her face and shoulders. ’Twas a perfect day for a wedding. The near springlike conditions could only be a sign that this day was sanctioned by God himself.

  The entire keep hummed with an air of expectancy. Banners from a dozen different clans flew high and rippled in the breeze outside the outer skirt. Smaller celebrations among the clans filtered through the air and she could hear musicians play lively tunes.

  Today all eyes would be on Alaric and Rionna. Keeley smiled in fond remembrance of when she and Rionna were just girls, dreaming about their prince charming and one day when their wedding celebration would be held. Rionna deserved to have her dream come true, and Alaric would make her the best of husbands.

  So immersed in her thoughts was she that she hadn’t realized that everyone had started to gather in the courtyard. ’Twas not a large distance away and she could see every aspect of the ceremony.

  She caught her breath when Alaric strode out, dressed in his wedding finery. He wore a velvet blue tunic and emblazoned on the hem was the McCabe crest. His hair fell below his shoulders and the ends lifted in the breeze, lending him a deliciously unkempt look.

  He took position by the priest and waited for Rionna to make her appearance. A few moments later, Rionna arrived in the courtyard. Keeley felt a surge of pride at her friend’s beauty. She shone like a million suns. Her golden hair looked afire in the sparkle of the sunlight.

  Her dress was elaborately and intricately sewn and took the efforts of two women on either side to bear the hem in the back. She looked regal. She looked every bit a queen.

  When Rionna was but a few steps away from Alaric, he looked in Keeley’s direction. He stared for a long moment, and she knew he saw her on the hillside. Slowly she brought her fingers to her lips and then curled them into a fist and touched it to her heart.

  Alaric raised his hand in a subtle gesture and splayed his fingers over his heart before returning his gaze to the approaching Rionna.

  As he took Rionna’s hand and they turned to face the priest, Keeley’s heart seized. This was it. In a few moments’ time, Alaric would marry another and be forever lost to her.

  Twelve drums lined on either side of Alaric and Rionna began beating, a tribute to the marriage about to take place. The sound filled the air and echoed across the countryside.

  Movement caught Keeley’s eye and she frowned, leaning forward to focus on the figure laying atop the stone skirt behind the gathered crowd.

  What was he about? What could he be doing?

  The sun caught something in his hand and reflected, a quick shimmer, but it was enough for Keeley to see the crossbow cradled in his arms.

  She surged to her feet and yelled loudly. But the drums continued to beat, faster and louder. She screamed but it was lost in the wind and then she began to run, sure she would never be in time. She wasn’t even sure of the target. The king was present. Ewan was there as was Mairin.

  All she knew was she had to issue a warning to all before it was too late.

  The drums echoed fiercely in Alaric’s ears. With each beat, the dread in his heart increased until it was all he could do to breathe.

  He glanced down at his and Rionna’s joined hands and then up at the beauty of his bride. Aye, she was beautiful. She would make a good wife. She would give him fine sons and daughters. She would be a credit to his leadership of her clan.

  Then he looked to his brother, who stood with Mairin on one side and their king on the other. His brother who had sacrificed much over the years to ensure the survival of their clan. How could he not do the same?

  He closed his eyes. Oh, God, he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t go through with it.

  The drums stopped abruptly and the silence was so keen in the moment following that it was startling. Then he heard a scream. His name.

  Rionna jerked around right as he did the same. Just in time to catch Keeley in his arms. Her eyes were wide with shock—and pain. Her mouth opened and then shut and she gasped, her face going white.

  For a moment he didn’t know what had occurred, but he heard the horrified screams behind Keeley. He heard the unmistakable sound of swords being drawn and then a shout went up.

  Yet all he could see was Keeley’s pain-stricken face as he held her in his arms, and then as she sagged, he saw the arrow protruding from her back, and he knew. The knowledge of what she had done struck him so hard that he staggered and his knees buckled. He sank to the ground holding her against his chest.

  “Keeley, nay! Nay! Why did you do it? Oh, God, Keeley, nay. Nay. Nay. ”

  It came out as a sob. He didn’t care. He had no pride. No shame. Her face was ashen and she had the look of death in her eyes, the knowledge he’d seen in any number of other warriors’ faces as they were struck down in the heat of battle.

  Rionna dropped beside him, her face nearly as gray as Keeley’s. “Keeley?” she whispered, her voice shaken and full of the same fear that gripped Alaric with unrelenting force.

  Around them the world went mad. There were shouts and call to arms. Ewan ushered the king and Mairin to safety. Caelen and Gannon took position in front of Alaric, their swords drawn, ready to strike down any threat.

  “Keeley, don’t leave me, my love,” Alaric whispered. “Hold on. I’ll take care of you. Just as you did me. ”

  She smiled shakily, her face creased with pain. “ ’Twas worth it. You were destined to be great. I could not …” She broke off as another spasm of agony shook her body. “I could not allow you to die this day. ”

  Alaric smoothed the hair from her cheek and held her gently to him as he rocked back and forth. He stared into her eyes, at the shadows that grew with each stuttered breath.

  He cupped her face and forced her to look at him. Then he reached down and twined her fingers with his until their hands were tightly clasped.

  “I, Alaric McCabe, wed you, Keeley McDonald McCabe. I take you as my wife until our last breaths are taken, until our souls are reunited in the hereafter. ”

  Faint shock shone in her eyes and her mouth opened wordlessly.

  “Say the words, Keeley. Give back to me what I was unwilling to give you before. Marry me here and now with all to bear witness. I love you. ”

  A single tear trailed down her cheek. She closed her eyes as if to gather her strength and then she opened them and renewed determination shone in their depths.

  “I, Keeley McDonald, now McCabe, wed you, Alaric McCabe. I take you as my husband forever and always until I’ve taken my last breath. ”

  Her voice grew weaker with each exhale, but the words were spoken. They were handfasted before hundreds of witnesses. She was his wife. She belonged to him for as long as God saw fit to bestow such a precious gift.

  He leaned down and kissed her forehead, choking as the cries of anguish threatened to pulse from his throat.

  “I love you,” he whispered. “Don’t leave me, Keeley. Not now when I’ve summoned the courage to do what is right. ”

  “Alaric. ”

  Rionna’s soft voice intruded on his grief.

  He glanced up at the woman he’d nearly wed and saw no shock or horror. No judgment or resentment. He saw answering grief as tears trailed endlessly down her cheeks.

  “We must take her inside. We must help her. ” Alaric gathered her tight
er in his arms and then stood. The arrow protruded from her back, a stark reminder of what she’d sacrificed for him.

  “Alaric, this way,” Ewan barked at him. “Take her inside so that I may see to her wound. ”

  The world tilted around him. It moved slowly as if suspended in time. Caelen and Gannon urged him forward, their swords providing a protective barrier to him and anyone who would venture near.

  The roaring in his ears prevented him from hearing the voices around him. He staggered toward the keep as Keeley’s blood dripped onto the ground below him.

  He closed his eyes. Don’t take her from me, God. Not now. Don’t let it to be too late to do what is right. Give me the chance to make amends.


  Keeley’s chamber was full of people when Alaric carried her inside. Ewan stood by the bed, his expression grim. Mairin and Maddie were at the foot of the bed, their eyes red from crying. Cormac stood to the side, comforting Christina, and Gannon and Caelen stood guard at the door, fury glinting in their eyes.

  Alaric eased her down onto the bed, careful to put her on her side so the arrow would not be pushed farther into her body. He looked up at his brother, his chest tight with grief and dread.

  “Can you help her? Can you fix this, Ewan?”

  Ewan knelt beside the bed so that he was eye level with the shaft of the arrow. “I will try, Alaric, but you must know, this isn’t good. The arrow is embedded deeply in her body. It might have struck something vital. ”

  Alaric closed his eyes and sought to control the rage that threatened to overtake his senses. She needed him calm. She didn’t need a raving lunatic, even though he wanted to scream and rage at the fates.

  “I’ll need to cut the arrowhead from her,” Ewan said grimly. “ ’Tis the only way. ”

  A commotion at the door yanked Alaric’s head up. Rionna, rid of her wedding finery, was held back by Caelen and she was none too happy.

  “Let me by,” she demanded. “She is my friend. I would help. ”

  “Let her by,” Alaric said hoarsely. He glanced at Rionna as she hurried to Keeley’s bedside. “Can you help her? Do you have any skill at healing?”

  “Not much, but I have a steady hand and a strong constitution. I’ll not faint at the sight of blood and I’m determined that she’ll not die. ”

  “Let her stay. She can aid me,” Ewan said. Then he looked in Caelen’s direction. “Take him from here. ’Tis not something he should be present for. ”

  For a moment Alaric didn’t realize that his brother spoke of him. It wasn’t until Gannon and Caelen reached for his arms that he understood they meant to remove him from the chamber.

  He stumbled back and drew his sword, pointing it at his younger brother. “I’ll kill the man who tries to take me from her. I’ll not leave her. ”

  “Alaric, be sensible,” Ewan commanded. “Leave this place. You’re only a hindrance. ”

  “I’ll not leave,” Alaric snarled.

  “Alaric, please,” Mairin said as she rushed forward. She dodged around his sword and pressed a gentle hand to his chest. “Come with me. I know you love her. She knows you love her. Let Ewan try to save her. You do her no good standing over her bedside like a savage. It won’t be pleasant to see and hear her when Ewan cuts the arrow from her back. Don’t torture yourself needlessly. ”

  Alaric stared down at his sister-in-law and saw the tears in her eyes, the grief shadowing her face. “I can’t leave her,” he whispered. “I’ll not have her die alone. ”

  “Damn it, Alaric. Get the hell out of here,” Ewan barked. “If things go badly, I’ll summon you at once. If we are to have a chance to save her, we must act quickly. ”

  Mairin reached and took his hand in hers then squeezed. “Come, Alaric. Leave them to their business. ”

  Alaric closed his eyes, his shoulders slumping. He turned to where Keeley lay on the bed and then he went down on one knee. He touched her shoulder and gently caressed the soft skin before leaning over to kiss her ashen brow.

  “I love you, Keeley. Be strong. Live. For me. ”

  Caelen and Gannon pulled Alaric and this time he allowed them to push him from the room. He stumbled outside of the chamber, his heart hammering like a drum.

  The door closed, bathing the hallway in darkness. He turned and pounded his fist into the stone wall. “Nay! God damn it, nay!”

  Caelen wrapped his arms around Alaric and hauled him the rest of the way down the hallway to his own chamber. He kicked in the door and thrust Alaric inside.

  Caelen’s eyes glittered with anger as he shoved Alaric onto his bed. “You do her no good like this. ”

  Alaric stared down at his swollen hand and at the blood seeping from the broken skin. He wanted to smash something else. He wanted the bastard who’d dared do this to Keeley.

  He glanced up at Caelen as coldness crept over him.

  “Did you apprehend the one who did this?”

  “Aye,” Gannon said from the doorway. “He is chained in the dungeon. ”

  “Did he act alone?” Alaric demanded.

  “We know not yet. We await the laird to question him. ”

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