Seduction of a highland.., p.36
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       Seduction of a Highland Lass, p.36
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         Part #2 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
Page 36

 

  Alaric sucked in air through his nostrils. “He is mine to kill. ”

  Caelen sank onto the bed next to his brother. “Aye, when we’ve extracted the necessary information from him, he is yours to kill. No one would deny you that right. ”

  “She saved me again,” Alaric said bleakly. “The arrow was meant for me. She stepped in front of it and gave her life for mine. ”

  “She is a fierce lass. She loves you. ”

  That Caelen spoke of love without derision in his voice was surprising. But there was only grudging admiration and truth in his tone.

  Alaric buried his head in his hands. “I’ve made such a mess of things. ”

  “Don’t torture yourself, Alaric. You were in an impossible situation. You and Keeley handled it as best you could. Much was riding on your marriage to Rionna. ”

  “I’m married to Keeley,” Alaric said quietly.

  “Aye, I heard it. I bore witness to the handfast. ”

  “It brings me no comfort when she lies dying down the hall. ”

  Caelen glanced at Gannon and then back to Alaric. “You sell the lass short, Alaric. She’s tough. She’s not a quitter. I confess I’ve never met another woman of her ilk. She’s earned my respect and my allegiance. ”

  Alaric pushed himself to his feet. “I cannot sit here not knowing what happens a few doors down. If she is brave enough to step in front of an arrow for me, the least I can do is stand at her side while she endures the worst. I know Ewan means well, but she needs me and I won’t let her down. ”

  Caelen sighed. “If ’Twas my woman in her position, I’d not let anyone make me leave her side either. ”

  Gannon nodded in agreement.

  Alaric walked to the door but then paused and turned to face his brother. “I haven’t thanked you for standing by Keeley during the last days. It’s been hard for her, I know. It should have been me. It will be me from now on. ”

  Caelen smiled. “ ’Tis no hardship. ’Tis the truth the lass amuses me. ”

  The corners of Alaric’s mouth lifted in a half smile and then he left the chamber and strode down the hall. He paused at Keeley’s door, afraid to open the door. There was no sound within. No cry of pain. Nothing to signal that she breathed still.

  With a whispered prayer, he eased the door open and stepped within.

  Ewan was bent over the bed, his face creased in concentration. Rionna was at Keeley’s head, stroking her hair and murmuring soothing words.

  Ewan cast a quick glance in Alaric’s direction but didn’t deviate from his task. When Alaric stepped closer, he could see that Ewan had cut around the shaft of the arrow to open the flesh enough for the arrowhead to be pulled free.

  The cloths surrounding the arrow were soaked in her blood and it had seeped onto the bed.

  “Let me hold her so you can concentrate more fully on the arrow,” Alaric said. He barely recognized his own voice.

  “You must hold her still. She mustn’t move,” Ewan said.

  Alaric nodded and then carefully crawled onto the bed. Keeley faced away from Ewan and was scooted to the edge so that Ewan had access to her back. Ewan waited until Alaric lined his body alongside Keeley’s and then carefully secured his arm over her hip. He slipped his arm underneath her head and carefully pulled her from Rionna’s lap.

  “You can help wipe the blood so I can see what I’m doing,” Ewan said to Rionna.

  Keeley’s breaths were a mere whisper against Alaric’s neck. When Ewan returned the blade to her skin, she went rigid against Alaric and a whimper escaped her lips.

  “Shh, love,” Alaric murmured. “I’m with you. I have you. I know it hurts. Be brave for me. Fight as you told me to fight. ”

  Ewan worked diligently through the next hours. He was afraid of the loss of blood, so he worked slowly and carefully extracted the arrowhead. When he finally worked the metal blade free, he swore when she started to bleed profusely.

  Keeley had long since lost consciousness and didn’t even rouse when Ewan pulled the arrow free of her flesh. Her blood seeped onto the floor while Ewan and Rionna both applied pressure to the wound.

  Alaric ignored the resigned expression on his brother’s face and focused only on Keeley’s. He willed her to breathe. He willed her to live.

  It took another two hours for Ewan to stitch the wound. ’Twas a difficult task because they couldn’t staunch the bleeding. Ewan worked fast to close the wound and when he set the last stitch, he sat back on the floor, his face weary with exhaustion.

  “Keep pressure to it,” he directed Rionna. “The bleeding has slowed. ’Tis God’s truth I don’t know if we’ve managed to stop it, or if she’s given her life’s blood already. ”

  With shaking fingers, Alaric felt for the pulse at her neck. It was weak and fluttered like the wings of a butterfly but she lived still.

  Rionna stood after setting a bandage to the wound and wiped the back of her arm wearily over her forehead. “I need to clean her, Alaric. The linens need to be stripped. She should have a clean gown and I must wash the dirt from her body. ”

  “I’ll do it,” Alaric said quietly. “I’ll not leave her. ’Tis my duty to tend her. I’ll not leave her alone. ”

  The woman he almost married stared back at him, grief raw and aching in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Alaric. I did not know you loved her or that she loved you. ”

  “Go now and rest,” Alaric said gently. “I will see to Keeley. ”

  After Rionna left, Ewan went to wash his hands in the basin and stood there for a long moment, his hands braced on the sides.

  “I’ve done all I can, Alaric. ’Tis in God’s hands now. ”

  “Aye, I know it. ”

  “I’ll leave you. I have much to do. ”

  Alaric nodded. “Thank you for saving her. ”

  Ewan offered a small glimmer of a smile. “Your faith in my abilities is humbling. If the lass lives ’twill be because of her own stubbornness. ”

  As Ewan was departing the chamber, Maddie hurried in. Alaric was grateful for her help. Together they stripped the bedding and Keeley’s bloodied clothing. Alaric wiped her down with wet cloths until chill bumps dotted her flesh.

  “ ’Tis better if you leave her unclothed,” Maddie advised. “ ’Tis a large wound on her back and we’ll need to check it often. Lay her on her side and we’ll prop pillows behind her so she doesn’t roll to her back. ”

  Alaric did as Maddie suggested and when he was satisfied that she was as comfortable as he could make her, he stretched out beside her and gathered her in his arms.

  He closed his eyes and pressed his lips to her soft forehead. “I love you,” he whispered.

  CHAPTER 37

  For three days Alaric never left Keeley’s side. She never regained consciousness no matter how much Alaric tried to rouse her. He begged, bullied, coerced. He promised her the moon. All to no avail. He worried that she wasn’t taking in any sustenance, and after so much blood loss she surely needed every bit she could get.

  And then the fever set in. Her flesh was dry and hot, so very hot. She twisted restlessly in her sleep and demons seemed to plague her without mercy. Alaric held and soothed her. He bathed her and at one point sat in a tub of water, holding her in an attempt to cool the raging fever.

  A week after it all began, Alaric was losing hope. She grew weaker by the day and she lay so still, it was as if she’d already passed on but her body had refused to shut down.

  On the seventh day, Ewan and Caelen came for him. Alaric’s rage was a sight to behold. It took the combined efforts of his brothers as well as Gannon and Cormac to force him from Keeley’s chamber.

  Rionna and Maddie took Alaric’s place as the men ushered Alaric outside the keep.

  “Where do you take me?” Alaric snarled as he fought against their hold.

  His brothers said naught but carried him to the loch and tossed him in.

  The water was a shock. He sunk belo
w the surface, all the air leaving his lungs in a rush of bubbles. How easy it would be to just breathe in and join Keeley. It killed him to think of her alone and afraid in some dark place, dead but not dead.

  As the cold settled in, the instinct to live kicked in and he fought his way to the surface. He came above and gasped a deep mouthful of air.

  “Glad you decided to stay with us,” Ewan snapped from the shore.

  Alaric treaded water for a moment and glared at his brothers. “What the hell was that for?”

  “You’re wasting away for nothing. You haven’t left Keeley’s chamber in a week. You won’t eat. You haven’t bathed. You haven’t even changed clothing. If the injury doesn’t kill her, ’tis likely your smell will,” Caelen snarled.

  Alaric swam to the shore and trudged out, shaking the water from his long hair. He bared his teeth just a moment before he leveled Caelen with a tackle.

  The two men hit the ground with a thump and Caelen grunted as the breath was knocked from his chest. He recovered quickly and rolled, thrusting his arm over Alaric’s neck.

  Alaric slammed his fist into Caelen’s jaw and Caelen reeled back. Before Alaric could jump to his feet, Ewan hit him hard, driving his shoulder into his belly.

  “God’s teeth, are you all trying to kill me?” Alaric demanded as Ewan pinned him to the ground.

  “Just trying to knock some sense into your thick head,” Ewan growled. “Are you ready to listen?”

  Alaric head-butted Ewan in the nose and then rolled until he was atop his older brother. “You’re getting to be an old man,” Alaric taunted.

  Caelen leaped back onto Alaric and the three men rolled, fists and curses flying. God but it felt good to beat the living hell out of something.

  Several long minutes later, the three men lay sprawled on the ground breathing heavily.

  “Ah damn,” Ewan groaned.

  Alaric looked over to see Mairin standing over her husband, her hands on her hips.

  “You should be resting,” Ewan growled.

  “And you should be doing something other than beating each other into pulps!” Mairin snapped. “ ’Tis disgraceful!”

  “I don’t know. It felt pretty damn good,” Caelen offered from his position on the ground.

  Alaric slowly picked himself up. “Is there any change with Keeley?”

  Mairin’s expression softened. “Nay, she sleeps still. ”

  Alaric closed his eyes and then turned back toward the loch. Maybe a good swim would clear his head and he could bathe while he was at it. Ewan was right. Rotting next to Keeley did no one any good.

  “Ewan, the king and all the lairds grow restless,” Mairin said. “They want to know what is to be done. ”

  “I know it well, Mairin. ” There was reproach in Ewan’s voice, as if he had no liking for her bringing up the topic in front of Alaric.

  Alaric ignored them both and waded back into the frigid water. He well knew that the king and the lairds waited for Keeley to die so that he could marry Rionna and seal the alliance.

  Gannon tossed him a bar of soap and waited on the banks while Alaric completed his bath. Ewan and Caelen returned with Mairin, leaving Cormac behind with Gannon to see to Alaric.

  He hadn’t gone mad with grief yet. Yet, being the operative word.

  When he returned to the keep a half hour later, Rionna greeted him, her eyes red and swollen. His heartbeat tripped and sped up, hammering against his chest. “What is it?” he demanded.

  “You must come. She is calling for you. ’Tis bad, Alaric. I fear she’ll not last the hour. She is so weak she cannot hold her eyes open, and the fever rages so high that she’s delirious. ”

  Alaric took the steps at a run and rushed down the hall, barreling past countless people. When he burst into Keeley’s chamber, his heart seized.

  She lay still, so still he feared he was too late. But then her lips twisted ever so slightly and she whispered his name.

  He rushed to her side and knelt beside the bed. “I’m here, Keeley. I’m here, love. ”

  He stroked his hand over her face, wanting her to feel his touch, wanting to reassure her that she wasn’t alone.

  She was so fragile, so very precious against his hands, so very breakable. He couldn’t accept that she could be taken from him at any moment.

  “Alaric?” she whispered again.

  “Aye, love, I’m here. ”

  “So cold. Don’t hurt anymore. Just cold. ”

  Alarm prickled up his spine.

  She turned as if seeking his face. Her eyes opened to mere slits but she didn’t focus on him. Her gaze was sightless as if she looked into a dark void.

  “I’m afraid. ”

  The admission gutted him. He gathered her in his arms and tears burned his eyelids. That a woman who’d feared nothing was now afraid was more than he could bear.

  “I’m with you, Keeley. Do not be afraid. I’ll not leave you. I swear it. ”

  “Take me …” she broke off, her voice barely above a whisper.

 
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