Seduction of a highland.., p.5
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       Seduction of a Highland Lass, p.5

         Part #2 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
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Page 5


  “You be careful not to rip his stitches,” she called.

  She strained forward and Gannon gingerly wrapped his hands around her waist to prevent her from tumbling from his lap.

  “ ’Tis a better idea if you sit still,” he suggested. “ ’Tis a long way to the ground for a lass as small as you. ”

  “I’ve no wish to leave!” she protested.

  Gannon shrugged. “The laird has decided to keep you. ’Tis better if you accept with good grace. The McCabes are a fine clan. And we have need of a healer since ours passed on just weeks ago. ”

  Her gaze narrowed and it was on the tip of her tongue to tell the daft man that they couldn’t just go around stealing people, but his words took hold and she quieted.

  He seemed to relax, and she felt a sigh of relief release from his chest.

  A clan. A position in a clan. Was it really that simple? She frowned. Would she have status in the McCabe clan, or would she be a prisoner with no more privilege than a captive? Would she be treated well until Alaric’s recovery and then turned out?

  And what if he didn’t recover? Would she shoulder the blame?

  A shiver took hold at the thought, and she instinctively burrowed closer to the warrior’s warmth. The wind had a bite, and she was ill-prepared for the elements.

  Nay. She wouldn’t allow Alaric to die. She’d determined it from the moment she’d laid eyes on the handsome warrior.

  Behind her Gannon cursed.

  “Get the lass something to shield her from the cold,” he called out. “She’ll freeze before we hit McCabe land. ”

  One of the other men tossed up a blanket and Gannon carefully arranged it around Keeley. She clutched the ends and stayed close to his chest, despite the fact that he was captor and she was captive.

  Nay. He wasn’t her captor. He didn’t look any more pleased with the arrangement than she. Nay. She had Caelen and the laird to blame.

  She sent a glare in their directions just so they’d know how displeased she was with their daring. Neither man spared her more than a cursory glance as they secured Alaric to a makeshift litter.

  “Be vigilant,” the laird directed as the men readied for their departure. “We know not what transpired during Alaric’s journey, but none, save him, survived. We must return to McCabe keep without delay. ”

  Keeley shivered at the ominous sound of the laird’s declaration. Someone had indeed tried to kill her warrior. He was the lone survivor.

  “ ’Tis all right, lass. We won’t allow any harm to come to you,” Gannon said, mistaking her shudder.

  Somehow she believed him. As ludicrous as it was to place any stock in these men when they were abducting her from her own home, she did believe that no harm would come to her as long as she was with them.

  With that in mind, she relaxed in Gannon’s hold and leaned her head over as they started forward at a slow pace. Her sleepless nights tending Alaric were beating a dull rhythm in her skull. She was tired, cold, and hungry, and there was absolutely nothing she could do about any of it. So she did the only thing that made sense.

  She slept.


  “You could have at least found a more accommodating woman to steal,” Caelen grumbled to his brother Ewan.

  Ewan grinned and glanced sideways where his men bore Alaric’s litter between them. Alaric hadn’t woken once, and it concerned him, but it was obvious the little spitfire had cared for him well. Which made her perfect for what he had in mind.

  “She has a fine hand at healing and that’s all that matters,” Ewan said, not wanting Caelen to begin a diatribe against women.

  As he spoke, he looked over to where Gannon rode with the woman in front of him. She sagged all over Gannon’s chest, and it was all Gannon could do to keep the limp burden on the saddle before him. The lass was fairly drooling out one side of her mouth in her deep sleep.

  “It would appear she’s gone without rest in her vigilance with Alaric,” Ewan murmured. “We need that kind of dedication. With Mairin’s time drawing ever near, it would make me feel better to have a competent midwife on hand. I’ll take no chances with her safety or that of our child. ”

  Caelen frowned but nodded his agreement.

  Gannon slowed his horse as the lass shifted and nearly fell out of the saddle. Gannon grasped her at the last moment, and her eyes flew open as she righted herself.

  Her disgruntled look made Ewan want to laugh. She was a prickly little thing. And not at all happy with the honor he afforded her. Why she’d want to continue living alone and in squalor was beyond him. Not when he offered her a revered position with his clan.

  “Have you experience with birthing children, lass?” he called out to her.

  She shot him a frown and her eyes narrowed. “Aye, I’ve delivered a babe or two in my time. ”

  “Have you any skill at it?” he persisted.

  “Well, none have died if that’s what you’re asking,” she said dryly.

  Ewan pulled up his reins and held up a fist for Gannon to do the same. He pinned the little wench with the full force of his glare.

  “Listen to me, you little harridan. Two people who are more important to me than my life have need of your skills. My brother is grievously injured and my lady wife will bear my child this winter. I need your skills, not your disrespect. While you are on my lands and in my keep, my word is the law. I am the law. You will recognize me as your laird or so help me, you’ll weather the winter with no shelter and no food. ”

  Keeley pinched her lips together and gave a short nod.

  “ ’Tis better not to anger the laird, lass,” Gannon whispered close to her ear. “He’s on edge with Lady McCabe so near her time. Our entire clan depends on the healthy arrival of the babe. ”

  Keeley swallowed, feeling contrite for her flippancy. Still, she couldn’t conjure up too much guilt. She’d been stolen from her home and expected to take up with the McCabes. She hadn’t been asked or given a choice. Why, if the laird had only outlined his problem, she might have accepted the offer to travel to his keep. Too much in her life had been beyond her control and too long had she not been given a choice in her destiny.

  “I’ve delivered well over twenty babes safely into this world, Laird,” she said grudgingly. “I’ve never lost one. I’ll do my best by your lady wife, and I’ll not let your brother die. I’ve already set my mind to his survival, and you’ll find, I’m not one to give up. ”

  “Imagine that. A stubborn lass,” Caelen muttered. “She and Mairin should get along famously. ”

  Keeley cocked her head. “Mairin?”

  “The laird’s wife,” Gannon supplied.

  Keeley studied the laird with interest because it was evident that he’d spoken the truth. His brother and wife meant a lot to him. She could see the worry in his face, and her romantic heart took over.

  How sweet that the laird would spirit away a healer just so his wife would have someone when her time came.

  Keeley nearly groaned. How ridiculous was it to wax poetic about how romantic the laird was. He’d abducted her, for the love of all that was holy. She should be screaming the forest down, not dwelling wistfully on the laird’s obvious affection for his wife.

  “You are a simpleton,” she muttered.

  “I beg your pardon?”

  Gannon sounded positively affronted.

  “Not you. ’Tis myself I’m referring to. ”

  She thought she heard him make reference to daft women, but she couldn’t be sure.

  “How long is the journey to your keep, Laird?” she called out.

  The laird turned in her direction. “Barely a day, but with Alaric having to be carried, we can count on it taking longer. We’ll travel as far as we can and camp as close to McCabe land as possible. ”

  “And when I’ve cared for your brother and delivered Lady McCabe’s babe safely, then may I return home?”

  The laird’s g
aze narrowed. Caelen looked very much like he wanted to shout aye!

  “I’ll consider it, aye. But I make no promises. Our clan has need of a skilled healer. ”

  She frowned, but she supposed it was better than an outright refusal.

  Bored and restless from the slow pace the warriors set, she leaned back against Gannon’s chest again, uncaring of whether it was proper or not. It wasn’t as if she’d asked to be abducted, and it certainly hadn’t been her idea to be tossed from man to man like foul-smelling rubbish.

  She set her sights on the countryside, trying to muster excitement for seeing beyond the area that she’d grown up and resided in since her birth. In truth, it wasn’t so different. Rugged landscape. Rocks scattered across the ground. They rode in and out of densely forested areas to valleys that were richly green and etched a path between rugged peaks.

  Aye, ’twas beautiful, but not the difference she’d always imagined.

  When they approached a stream that connected two lochs, Laird McCabe called a halt and ordered his men to secure the perimeter of their encampment.

  Like a well-honed operation, they each took a different task, and soon tents were set, fires were built, and guards were posted.

  As soon as Alaric was settled close to the fire, she hurried to him, feeling his brow and laying her head close to his chest to listen to his breathing.

  His prolonged lack of consciousness bothered her immensely. He hadn’t woken once during their travels. She strained to hear his breaths. They were shallow and his chest barely rose with the effort.

  His forehead burned to the touch. His lips were dry and cracked. Grimly she turned her head in the direction of his brothers, knowing they were watching.

  “I need water and I need one of you to assist me in getting him to drink. ”

  Caelen went for the water himself while Ewan knelt on Alaric’s other side and put his arm underneath his brother’s neck. Ewan lifted as Caelen handed a tin down to Keeley.

  She carefully put it to Alaric’s lips, but when she dribbled the water into his mouth, it spilled right back out again.

  “Stop being stubborn, warrior,” she scolded. “Drink so that we may all sleep this night. I’ve gone long enough without sleep because of you. ”

  “Devil,” Alaric mumbled.

  Ewan’s mouth twitched and Keeley glared at him.

  “You can call me whatever you like if you’ll just drink,” she said.

  “What did you do to my angel?” Alaric slurred.

  She took advantage of his open mouth and tilted the tin so the water spilled past his lips. He choked and coughed but swallowed most of it down.

  “Aye, that’s it. More now. You’ll feel better for it,” Keeley crooned as she dribbled more water into his mouth.

  Alaric obediently swallowed, and when Keeley was satisfied he’d taken enough, she motioned for Ewan to lower Alaric back down.

  She tore off a piece of her tattered skirts and dipped it into the remaining water. Then she wiped it over Alaric’s brow, easing the taut lines that gathered at his forehead.

  “Rest easy now, warrior,” she whispered.

  “Angel,” he murmured. “You came back. Was worried the she-devil had done something evil to you. ”

  Keeley sighed. “So ’tis an angel I am again. ”

  “Stay next to me. ”

  Keeley glanced over her shoulder to see Caelen frowning while amusement glimmered in Ewan’s eyes. She narrowed her eyes at both of them. They wanted their brother to regain his health. Part of that was keeping him calm and noncombative. If that meant sleeping next to him, then she’d do so.

  Ewan stepped forward. “I’ll get blankets so that you’re both comfortable. I appreciate you staying close to him when he’s so ill. ”

  In that moment, Keeley decided the laird couldn’t be all bad. Caelen she would reserve judgment on, but the laird knew she was discomfited by what she considered her duty, and he was putting her at ease and giving her an excuse for remaining by Alaric’s side.

  Still, she glanced quickly around to gauge whether the laird’s men had heard or had any understanding of where she was going to sleep.

  None of them seemed bothered, and in fact, they began positioning themselves in a tight circumference around Alaric so that he was protected on all sides.

  Two of the men brought blankets and rolled one of them into a cushion.

  “For your head,” one of the warriors explained. “So the ground won’t be so hard to sleep on. ”

  Touched by his thoughtfulness, she smiled and took the blankets. “By what name are you called?”

  He returned her smile. “Cormac, mistress. ”

  “Thank you, Cormac. ’Tis the truth I’ve spent the last nights on the floor and would welcome a barrier to the ground. ”

  She arranged the blankets and then quickly positioned herself next to Alaric, careful to keep a respectable distance between them. With her head cushioned on the rolled up blanket and the furs between her and the ground, she found that she was quite comfortable.

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