Never love a highlander, p.4
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       Never Love a Highlander, p.4

         Part #3 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
slower 1  faster
Page 4


  Caelen grunted.

  “The question is, why your lass is out of your bed the morning after she wed with you. One might draw some interesting conclusions. ”

  Caelen sent him a chilling glare.

  Not in the least bit worried over Caelen’s mood, Cormac continued. “Why, the very fact that she has the strength to spar suggests that you did something … well, not right. ”

  Cormac’s smug teasing made Caelen’s lips turn up into a snarl. “I’d wager that Christina wouldn’t care too much for a toothless husband. ”

  Cormac held up his hands in surrender, but he wore that stupid grin all the way outside.

  Caelen welcomed the brisk chill. It was a reminder to him never to get too comfortable. Never let his guard down. When men became too ensconced in their own comfort, it was inevitably their downfall.

  That wouldn’t happen to him. Not if he could help it. Nor would it happen to his clan—both new and old.

  “She has skill,” Cormac noted.

  Caelen scowled again as they approached the area lit by the torches.

  “Rionna!” he barked.

  Her head yanked in his direction just as the other man’s sword flew. Directly at her exposed neck.

  Caelen thrust his sword forward to deflect the blow, and Rionna’s eyes widened as the tip of her sparring partner’s blade stopped within an inch of her flesh.

  With a flick of his wrist, Caelen knocked the sword from her opponent’s hand and sent him a look that had him backing away in a hurry.

  If he expected his wife to be frightened, abashed, or grateful that he’d prevented her death, he was wrong.

  She was bloody furious.

  Her eyes sparking with demonic light in the glow of the torches, she turned on him, reminding him of a spitting kitten. The comparison would probably only make her angrier, but it was an amusing enough thought.

  “What did you think you were doing?” she yelled. “You could have gotten me killed! You don’t bellow at someone when they’re sparring!”

  His nostrils flared and he advanced on her, furious that she’d address him thusly in front of others.

  “Think you that distractions don’t exist on the battlefield, Rionna? Think you that no one will ever shout at you? A warrior is strong, not just physically but in the mind as well. Allowing yourself to become distracted during battle will get you killed. ”

  She flushed and looked away, her sword lowered toward her feet.

  “Nor do you ever lower your sword. You’re now completely vulnerable to attack. ”

  Her lips twisted in anger. “You’ve made your point, husband. ”

  “Have I? I think not. I’m only about to begin to make my point. You will take yourself inside at once. You’ll not indulge in such activities again. Do I make myself clear?”

  Her mouth dropped open and those golden eyes flashed with rage—and humiliation.

  “When you present yourself to the table to break your fast, you’ll do so as a credit to the McCabe clan, and you’ll show respect due the king and the laird of this clan. ”

  Her lips snapped shut and formed a mutinous frown. He took another step forward until there was no space separating them. He’d never admit it, in a thousand years, but the sight and smell of her, all disheveled from swordplay, had his cock about to split at the seams.

  He couldn’t have her running about in this manner of dress or doing battle with the men because he’d be naught but a walking erection.

  He waved a hand to dismiss her and to let her know she was dismissed. As she turned away, he called after her.

  “Oh, and Rionna? Take a bath. You stink. ”


  Stink. He’d told her she stank! Rionna slid farther down in the tub until water lapped at her ears. They still burned with mortification, and she could still hear the men’s laughter ringing in her ears as she’d all but fled into the keep.

  He’d humiliated her. Not just with words but by actions. He’d proven her inept and she’d committed the sin of allowing herself to become distracted.

  She knew all of this. She wasn’t an idiot. She could hold her own with a sword, and yet from the moment she’d become aware of his presence, all sense had flown right out of her mind.

  She’d become nothing more than a bumbling fool playing at being a man. Her disgust knew no bounds.

  A knock sounded at her door. She frowned and sunk so low in the tub that only her nose and eyes stuck out of the water. A moment later, the door opened and Maddie stuck her head in.

  “Ah, there you are, lass. Caelen thought you might be needing help. He wants you below stairs to break your fast in half an hour’s time. ”

  “Oh he does, does he?” Rionna muttered.

  “Let me help wash your hair. ’Twill take some doing to get it all dry in such a short time. You have such long, thick hair. ’Tis as beautiful as a sunset over the loch. ”

  The woman’s praise bolstered Rionna’s flagging spirits. She knew she wasn’t beautiful. Keeley was beautiful. Rionna … Well, part of it was her fault. She could have practiced being more feminine when she was younger.

  Now her body had lost some of her youthful softness and she had muscles that no lady should ever have. Her arms were firm. Her waist slender. Her legs were hard with muscle, and no flab gathered at her hips. In fact she was quite narrow.

  The only womanly place on her was her breasts, and she despaired of them. They simply didn’t match the rest of her.

  Which is why she kept them bound. They simply got in her way and they were a great distraction.

  There were occasions when her father insisted she dress as a woman, the few times the McDonalds hosted honored guests. Her mother’s gowns had been altered, but the bodice had still been too tight. Her breasts had strained the limits of the bodice, and the result was men making twits of themselves as they stared lasciviously at her cleavage.

  Men were ridiculous. Show them a breast and they became slobbering fools.

  And one man was a fool above all others and ’twas him she feared the most. As long as she remained boyish in figure, she didn’t have to worry about drawing unwanted attention.

  “Well, lass? Are you going to sit there all day while the water grows cold or are you going to let me wash your hair so we can get you ready to go below stairs?”

  Rionna shook herself from her thoughts and then nodded. Maddie briskly fetched a wooden bucket from the window and then motioned for Rionna to sit forward in the tub. As Rionna sat up, Maddie’s eyes widened.

  “Well now, where have you been hiding those?”

  Rionna looked down and flushed as she became aware that Maddie was staring at her exposed breasts. They bobbed in the water and Rionna laid her arm across her chest to push them down.

  “I’m cursed,” Rionna muttered.

  “Oh, Lordie, no you’re not cursed. Lasses would kill to have a shape like that. Does your husband know what he’s got?”

  Rionna scowled.

  Maddie let out a chuckle. “I’ll take that as a no. Oh my but is he in for a surprise. ”

  “He won’t be seeing them for a while if I have my way. ”

  Maddie hooted again and then poured a bucket of water over Rionna’s head. “Surely you aren’t going to hide them forever. ”

  “Nay. Not forever. ”

  “You think he’s not going to want a peek at your treasures when he beds you?”

  Rionna frowned. “How do you know …”

  Maddie made a tsking sound. “Oh come now, lass. You were as drunk as an old warrior put out to pasture and there was no stain on your bed. Unless you’re going to tell me you weren’t a maiden. ”

  Another flush crawled over Rionna’s face. Maddie was as forward as they came, and Rionna wasn’t used to the counsel of other women. It made her distinctly uncomfortable.

  “There’ll be plenty of time to warm your husband’s bed,” Maddie advised. “Unti
l then you need to give him a taste of what he’s missing so far. The lad’s tongue will be hanging out his mouth if you show those breasts to their best advantage. ”

  Rionna shook her head. “ ’Tis not my husband’s reaction I’m concerned with. ”

  “Think you Caelen would allow another man to get near his wife? Come now, lass. You may have worried before about untoward advances, but if a woman can’t look her finest at her own wedding celebration, then when can she? A man would be a fool to approach you with your new husband there beside you. ”

  “What do you have in mind?” Rionna asked warily.

  Maddie shot her a smug smile as she began rinsing away the soap. “You leave that to me. I think I have just the thing. ”

  Caelen was growing more irritated by the minute. The king had already sat down to break his fast and yet they still awaited Rionna’s presence. Even Mairin, who was still weak from childbirth and nursing a babe, was seated at her husband’s side, waiting for the meal and the talks to commence afterward.

  He was about to go drag her down the stairs himself when a hush fell over the room. Indeed, the silence was so pronounced that unease prickled over his nape.

  When he saw all attention focused on the entrance to the hall, he turned to follow the stares. His first reaction was one of aggravation, given that she’d made them wait so long. But then he took in her appearance, and he was puzzled by what was different.

  He was slower to catch on than those around him, maybe because he was more focused on the fact that she was late. But realization, when it hit him, made his mouth drop open. He snapped it shut and glanced hastily around to make sure no one had caught his reaction.

  Then he jerked his gaze back to his wife.

  There had never been a doubt that she was a comely woman. She had eyes of an unusual shade. Amber and golden. Much like her hair. Not red or even auburn, but not exactly blond either. Depending on which way the sun hit her, the locks were golden, sometimes russet, lighter and darker. A fascinating blend of the sky at sunset.

  Aye, she could even be considered beautiful, if she weren’t always dressed as a man with dirt on her face and hands.

  But now …

  Jesus wept. The woman had breasts. Who knew? He swallowed back the instant knot in his throat. He wouldn’t be expected to have such a reaction. By all accounts, he should have discovered this most interesting detail last night. When he was supposed to have bedded his new bride.

  Where the hell had she hidden such a bounty of femininity?

  And furthermore, why?

  She was attired in a fine gown, one that seemed familiar to him. He glanced in Mairin’s direction, realizing that it had been made for her. On Mairin it had been handsome enough, but on Rionna it was spectacular.

  Rionna looked … dainty. Not a word that would have ever come to mind before. Fragile and feminine. Her hair was swept up atop her head, and strands slid down her neck like little sips of sunshine.

  She also looked extremely uncertain.

  He arched an eyebrow at his little warrior as fear crowded into her eyes. He would have thought she’d cut her own throat before allowing anyone to see her fear.

  But now, twice in less than a day, he’d seen fear and vulnerability in his bride’s eyes and it made him want to do daft things.

  Like lie beside her all night because he worried he’d frighten her more if he bedded her.

  He almost snorted. Of all the stupid things, that was probably the most. If his men knew of his sudden patience, they’d laugh him out of the keep.

  Which was why he had to pretend he’d already seen the feast of feminine flesh that his wife now had on display.

  He scowled at the ogling men and then stepped forward to assist his wife into her seat. He was still scowling when he greeted her, which was likely why tight lines appeared around her eyes and mouth.

  He meant to tell her that she looked nice and he wholeheartedly approved of the change. What came out, however, was not what he planned.

  “Why don’t you cover yourself properly? ’Tis indecent. ”

  She yanked her arm from his hand, fixed him with a glare that would shrivel a man’s cods, and then elegantly seated herself, leaving him to feel like the worst sort of tyrant.

  He glared again at his men when they continued to stare with their tongues wagging about like they’d never set eyes on a lass.

  “You look beautiful, Rionna,” Mairin said from across the table.

  Guilt crept up Caelen’s neck. It should have been him who acknowledged how regal and, yes, beautiful, his wife looked. It shouldn’t be left to others to comment in order to remove his insensitive remarks.

  And yet he couldn’t open his mouth to remedy his error.

  “I’ve never seen a finer bride,” the king said with a broad smile.

  Caelen scowled at the king and ignored Ewan’s look of reprimand.

  David merely laughed and dug into his food.

  “ ’Tis a good thing we’ve done, Ewan,” David said heartily as he wiped his mouth with the back of his arm.

  Caelen wished he could be so sure this alliance was necessary. Still, his brother looked more at ease than he had in many months spent worrying over Mairin and Isabel and Duncan Cameron. And Alaric looked … content. For too long Alaric had been tormented by an impossible choice. The woman he loved or his loyalty to his clan. Having chosen wrong before, Caelen didn’t feel qualified to decide on such matters.

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