Seduction of a highland.., p.38
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       Seduction of a Highland Lass, p.38
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         Part #2 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
Page 38

 

  He turned then to face Ewan. “I know this will lower me in the esteem of my family. My brothers. My clan. My king. But I cannot be the man you’ve always known me to be if I do this thing. There has to be another way to make the alliance work. Me being laird of the McDonald clan should not be the hinge that holds us all together. ”

  The king let out a deep breath, his eyes glittering with anger. “Think what you do. Cameron nearly destroyed your clan. This is your opportunity to finish him once and for all. ”

  “With or without this alliance, Cameron is a dead man,” Alaric said in a menacing voice. “What you seek is an alliance that will prevent Malcolm from a successful bid to the throne, and you would use our clan to achieve your means. ”

  The king’s scowl grew darker.

  “I won’t do it. ” Alaric glanced to Rionna, apology in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Rionna. I would not humiliate you for the world. You are a good lass who deserves a husband who does not love another. I cannot marry you. ”

  “I’ll marry her. ”

  The hall went dead silent. Alaric turned, sure that it wasn’t Caelen who’d spoken those words. When he saw that it was indeed his brother who’d stepped forward and made the declaration, he could only stare in astonishment.

  Rionna gasped and raised a hand to her mouth as she stared in horror at Caelen.

  Ewan rose from his seat, his expression guarded. “I don’t think I heard you correctly. ”

  “I said I’d marry her,” Caelen repeated. “ ’Tis the easiest solution. A McCabe still becomes laird of the McDonald clan. Our alliances are sealed. We pledge ourselves to the king against Malcolm and Cameron. Alaric stays married to Keeley. Everyone gets what they want. ”

  “Except you,” Alaric murmured.

  Caelen twisted his lips. “It matters naught. As long as she can give me sons and daughters I’ll be well satisfied with the match. ”

  Rionna had gone pale and sank back into her seat next to her father. The laird was nearly as pale as he stared in horror at the king.

  “This cannot be allowed,” Laird McDonald sputtered. “The agreement was for Alaric McCabe to wed with Rionna and become laird when I stepped down. ”

  The king rubbed his chin in a thoughtful manner. “Ewan, what think you of this mess?”

  Ewan stared hard at Caelen but Caelen stared back, his expression stubborn and unyielding.

  “I think,” Ewan said slowly, “that ’tis a reasonable solution so long as all parties agree. ”

  “I don’t agree!” Laird McDonald shouted.

  “Father, sit down,” Rionna said in a voice that sounded like the crack of a sword against a shield. She pushed forward and walked toward the center of the room where Alaric and Caelen stood before Ewan and the king.

  “Your conditions?” she asked Caelen in a cool voice.

  “Smart lass,” Caelen murmured. “Aye, there are conditions. Your father leaves McCabe keep immediately and is never to return so long as Keeley McCabe resides here. When we return to McDonald land after our marriage, your father steps down as laird immediately and cedes power to me. ”

  “This is an outrage!” Laird McDonald bellowed.

  Several other of the McDonalds voiced their displeasure and soon the hall vibrated with angry shouts.

  To Alaric’s surprise, Rionna said nothing during the arguing. She stood completely still, studying Caelen.

  “Your conditions do seem unreasonable,” the king said.

  Caelen shrugged. “They are mine. Unreasonable or not. ”

  “I am not willing to give up the position of laird yet,” Laird McDonald bellowed. “ ’Twas the plan to cede power to Alaric after the birth of Rionna’s firstborn child. ”

  Caelen offered a lazy smile. “I can assure you that your daughter will be delivered of a child within nine months of our marriage. What does nine more months buy you?”

  Rionna flushed and Laird McDonald nearly exploded with rage.

  Caelen then turned to the king. “I gave my word that I would not relate an event that happened some days past. But the reason for not telling is no longer an issue and I would want you and the other clans to know the kind of man Laird McDonald is and why it is my condition that he step down the moment I marry his daughter. ”

  The king frowned. “Speak then. I give you leave to break this promise. ”

  “When Keeley was a young girl, she was a McDonald. Cousin to Rionna and niece to Laird McDonald. He caught her in her chamber and tried to rape her. A girl barely on the cusp of womanhood. When his wife found them, she cried Keeley whore and cast her out of the keep. She was forced to live on her own and provide for herself as no young girl should have to do. She was without protection. It’s a wonder she survived. ”

  “That’s crazy talk,” Laird McDonald sputtered. “ ’Tis as my lady wife said. The lass tried to seduce me. ”

  Rionna whirled and pinned her father with a glare that made him pale and take his seat once again.

  “That’s not the whole of it,” Caelen said softly. “Upon the laird’s arrival here, when he found out that Keeley was staying here in the McCabe keep, he waited for her to pass his chamber. He pulled her into his room, locked the door, and tried to rape her again. ”

  Alaric lunged across the table and slammed into Laird McDonald. The force sent them both over the back of the laird’s chair and they hit the floor with a resounding thump that echoed throughout the keep.

  “You son of a bitch,” Alaric snarled. “You dared to touch her again? I’ll kill you for this!”

  He yanked the laird to his feet and smashed his fist into his face, satisfied when the laird promptly spewed blood and two teeth from his mouth. Alaric reared back to hit him again when Caelen caught his fist.

  “ ’Tis enough,” he said quietly. “I let you get in one, but now the laird is my problem, and I’ll deal with him accordingly. ”

  “You’re the one who found her, weren’t you?” Alaric said hoarsely. “And you didn’t tell me. She was mine to defend. It should have been me to have repaid his insult. ”

  Caelen smiled. “Your lass did a fine enough job on her own. She busted his nose and fair cracked his cods open. I merely finished the job for her. ”

  The king rose, his expression dark as he stared at the goings-on. “Is this true, Laird McDonald? Did you try to rape a child under your own care and protection? And you attacked her once again under Laird McCabe’s roof?”

  The laird remained silent as he nursed his bloodied mouth.

  “Aye, he did,” Rionna said quietly. “I was there. ”

  “Disloyal bitch!” the laird spat.

  Caelen rounded on the laird again. “ ’Tis my future wife you insult. I would suggest you strongly reconsider any words you have to say to her in the future. ”

  The king rubbed his fingers wearily over the bridge of his nose. “What think you of this, Ewan? Can we still salvage this alliance and will the others join with us in our cause?”

  Ewan lifted a brow and then surveyed the occupants of the hall, most of whom had remained silent as they observed what had transpired between the McDonalds and the McCabes.

  “Why don’t you ask them?”

  The king chuckled. “A sound idea indeed, Ewan. ”

  He raised his hands for quiet and then addressed the crowded room. “What say you, Lairds? If Caelen McCabe marries Rionna McDonald and seals Neamh Álainn to the McCabe lands here via the alliance with the McDonalds, will you join with us in our fight against Duncan Cameron and Malcolm?”

  One by one, the lairds stepped forward, the only sound, their boots scraping against the floor.

  “I refuse to ally myself with a coward who preys on children,” one laird called out. “If Caelen McCabe becomes laird upon his marriage to Rionna McDonald, then aye, I’ll join and swear my allegiance to Your Majesty and to the McCabes. ”

  The other lairds nodded and voiced their agreement.

 
There is but one last question to ask,” Caelen spoke up.

  All heads turned in his direction, but he turned his gaze on Rionna, who still stood ramrod straight and pale in the center of the room.

  “Are you willing to wed with me and not Alaric McCabe, Rionna McDonald?”

  Rionna stared at her father and shook her head in a gesture of sorrow. Finally she looked up at Caelen and met his gaze with her captivating golden eyes.

  “Aye, Caelen McCabe. You have proven a worthy and loyal friend to Keeley and brother to Alaric. ”

  “And do you support me becoming laird upon our marriage and for your father to step down?”

  This time she didn’t even hesitate. “I do not want him on our lands. ”

  The room buzzed with shock over her words. Laird McDonald blanched and then shoved himself upward again. “You ungrateful bitch! Where do you think me to go?”

  “I care not. But you are not welcome on McDonald lands any longer. ”

  Caelen lifted an eyebrow in surprise and then exchanged glances with Alaric. Neither of the brothers had expected such. It was evident from the McDonalds’ earlier visits that there was tension between father and daughter, but they weren’t prepared for Rionna’s emotionless dictate.

  “ ’Tis settled then,” the king said. “ ’Twould appear we have a wedding to attend after all. ”

  CHAPTER 39

  Alaric met Caelen just as Alaric was about to enter Keeley’s bedchamber. “Give her my love and tell her I never doubted her for a second,” Caelen said with faint amusement.

  “I will. And Caelen, thank you. I don’t even know what to say. That you would step in like that for me and for Keeley. Neither of us can ever hope to repay you. ”

  Caelen smiled. “I learned a lot from your lass, Alaric. I’ve never met someone as fiercely loyal and selfless as her. She refused to allow me to tell you of McDonald’s attack because she knew what you would do and she worried it would ruin the marriage between you and Rionna. She knew how much this alliance meant to our clan, and since she considers the McCabes her family now, she was willing to put aside her own personal wants and desires to do what she thought was best for her family. How could I do anything less?”

  “Have a care with Rionna,” Alaric warned. “Mairin worried that I’d be too hard on her, and if she worried that about me, I can only imagine her fears of how you’ll be. ”

  Caelen snorted.

  “Mairin seems to think we all want to handle her with a strong hand and crush the part of her that makes her special. ” Alaric shrugged. “I have no idea what she means, but there you have it. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that she goes around in man’s clothing and can wield a sword and ride a horse better than most warriors. ”

  “She’ll do as I tell her,” Caelen said lazily.

  “I wish now I was there to witness it. ”

  “Go now and see your lady. Your wife,” Caelen amended.

  Alaric clapped Caelen on the shoulder and then entered Keeley’s chamber. To his surprise, Gannon sat on the bed next to Keeley, wiping her brow with a damp cloth.

  He nearly laughed. Keeley had made conquests of them all. It wouldn’t surprise him if the whole of the clan took a turn caring for Keeley.

  Gannon looked up and saw Alaric. “Maddie took Mairin down so she could nurse the babe. I was to care for her until one of you returned. ”

  Alaric nodded then motioned for Gannon to get up. “How is she? Has she been conscious?”

  “She’s sweating off the fever and has been so hot that we’ve had to open the window to let cooler air in. She drifts in and out, though I think she’s more sleeping than being unconscious. ”

  Alaric breathed in sweet relief and savored the taste on his tongue.

  “You can go now. I’ll take care of her from now on. ”

  Gannon paused at the door. “What happened down there? There was talk of the king commanding you to set Keeley aside. ”

  Alaric smiled. “Aye, he did. ”

  Gannon scowled and his shoulders puffed up like he was about to explode.

  “I declined. ”

  Gannon lifted an eyebrow in shock. “You said nay to the king?”

  “Aye, I did,” Alaric said ruefully. “ ’Twas easier than I thought it would be. ”

  “What will happen?”

  “ ’Tis a long story and if you’ll go find Caelen, I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to fill you in. Right now, I have need to see my lady wife and tell her I love her again. ”

  Gannon smiled and beat a hasty retreat from the room.

  Alaric hastened to Keeley’s side and tucked himself in next to her. She cuddled against his body and he absorbed the delightful sensation of her flesh against his, so warm and soft. Delicate and infinitely fragile against his much larger frame.

  She was a miracle. His miracle. One he’d thank God for every day for the rest of his life.

 
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