Never love a highlander, p.6
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       Never Love a Highlander, p.6
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         Part #3 of McCabe Trilogy series by Maya Banks
Page 6

 

  It was stupid of her to allow Maddie to interfere. Playing dress up was for beautiful women who knew all the social niceties. How to talk. How to walk. How to be quiet and deferential. All the things Rionna wasn’t.

  All Rionna had accomplished was making an even bigger fool of herself. And she’d given Caelen yet another opportunity to humiliate her.

  She hated him.

  It was bad enough he thought himself some noble self-sacrificer for taking on his brother’s discarded bride, but he had to be a smug, overbearing jackass to boot.

  If only she’d had a sister to marry off. Then Rionna could have dressed the way she wanted, acted as she wanted, and she could damn well pick up a sword when she wanted.

  Realizing she was standing in the nude and it was quite cold, she pulled on the scruffy trews and then pulled her favorite tunic over her head. Her boots were old. There was a hole in the heel, but they fit her like a glove and they’d never let her down.

  Taking only a few extra moments to plait and secure her hair, she slid her sword into the scabbard and enjoyed the comfort of being herself once more.

  Then she turned and strode from her chamber.

  To hell with Caelen McCabe. To hell with the lot of them. Her clan might not be the mightiest or the cleverest. They might not have the fighting skills of another clan. But they were hers and she wouldn’t allow them to be spoken poorly of. Her father had done enough of that. Self-righteous bastard.

  She slipped silently down the stairs, hoping the men would still be involved in talks. She cocked her head when she reached the base of the stairs and heard the sound of voices echoing through the great hall.

  She hurried the opposite way and out one of the side exits into the courtyard.

  Soldiers from the various neighboring clans sparred. They jested and laughed. The smell of sweat filtered through her nose, and the sounds of metal banged in her ears, welcome and familiar.

  Still, she moved away from the assembled soldiers and made her way through the trees toward the loch.

  “Rionna!”

  She turned hastily, seeing her father standing in the direction she’d just come from. He was frowning, his arms crossed over his chest. Then he loosened one hand and motioned her to come.

  She contemplated ignoring his summons, but ’twas not the time. He was still her laird, albeit for not many days longer. Her new husband would take over the mantle of leadership and, God help her, she didn’t know who she dreaded in the position more.

  Her jaw tight, she walked back to her father and stopped a short distance away. “Yes, father?”

  “I want to have a word with you. We cannot allow Caelen McCabe to take over the McDonald clan. ”

  “We have little choice in the matter,” she said carefully. “ ’Tis either ally ourselves with the McCabes or face Duncan Cameron on our own. ”

  “Nay, ’tis not our only choice. ”

  She raised an eyebrow. “Think you that you’re a little late to be saying such? You couldn’t have come to me with this solution before I married Caelen McCabe?”

  “Silence that mouth of yours before I do,” her father roared. “I am still your laird and, by God, I’ll not tolerate your insolence. ”

  Rionna stared defiantly at the man she’d lost all respect for over the years. He was a pathetic excuse for a man, even if he was her laird—and her father. She couldn’t help the circumstances of her birth. Would that she could.

  “Tell me, father. What is this plan you’ve hatched to save us all from the McCabes and Duncan Cameron?”

  He smiled then and Rionna shivered. “If you can’t beat a man, you should consider joining with him. I’ve a mind to strike a bargain with Cameron. He allows me to remain laird of my clan and I’ll aid him in his endeavors. ”

  Rionna paled, all the blood draining from her face. “You speak of treason!”

  “Quiet!” her father hissed. “Lest we be overheard. ”

  “You’re a fool,” she bit out. “I’m married already. There is naught to be done. Duncan Cameron is a man without honor. You can’t seriously think to ally ourselves with one of his ilk. ”

  He slapped her across her cheek, shocking her into silence. She stumbled back, her hand cupping her jaw.

  Then she regained her footing, her rage so fierce that she feared exploding.

  She drew her sword and flew toward him, the tip notched against his neck. His eyes bulged and sweat beaded his forehead as he stared back at her.

  “You’ll not ever touch me again,” she ground out. “If you ever raise your hand to me, I’ll carve out your heart and feed it to the buzzards. ”

  Her father raised his hands slowly, his fingers shaking like leaves in autumn. “Don’t be rash, Rionna. Think what you’re saying. ”

  “I speak the truth,” she said in a harsh voice she didn’t recognize. “You’ll not lead our clan to dishonor. Nor will you drag me into the mire you’ve created. We’ll not ally ourselves with Cameron. We’ll not betray our bond with the McCabes. ”

  She took a step back and lowered her sword.

  “Get out of my sight. You sicken me. ”

  Her father’s lip curled into a grimace of distaste. “You were always a sore disappointment, Rionna. You play at being a man and yet you’re neither a man nor a woman. ”

  “Go to hell,” she whispered.

  He turned and stalked away, leaving her standing, shivering in the cold.

  Slowly she turned back toward the loch and walked closer to the water’s edge. Today the water was dark and ominous. The wind whipped along the surface, boiling the water into waves that beat at the shoreline.

  Her face throbbed. Her father had never struck her. She had always feared him but for another reason entirely. In truth she’d avoided him when at all possible, and until she became a valuable pawn, her father had ignored her as well.

  She stared sightlessly over the water, and for the first time since this whole mess began, felt a wave of despair slide over her shoulders, weighing her down.

  What did she know about being a wife?

  She glanced down at her attire as shame tightened her cheeks and swelled in her chest. Caelen McCabe had managed to do what no other person had ever managed. He’d made her ashamed of who she was, and it infuriated her.

  She rubbed her hands together and then tucked them under the hem of her tunic. She hadn’t donned gloves—an oversight. She’d been in too big a hurry to leave the keep and the walls closing in around her.

  But even the brisk wind and the biting chill couldn’t drive her back toward the warmth of indoors. Back to her future with a man as cold as the mist blowing off the loch.

  “Rionna, you shouldn’t be out in the cold. ”

  She stiffened but didn’t turn around as her husband’s terse reprimand reached her.

  “You’ll take ill. ”

  He came to stand beside her and stared over the loch in the direction of her gaze.

  “Have you come to make your apology?” she asked as she glanced sideways at him.

  He jerked in surprise and turned to stare at her, eyebrow raised. “Apologize for what?”

  “If you have to ask, ’tis not a sincere apology you’ll issue. ”

  He snorted. “I’ll not apologize for kissing you. ”

  She flushed. “It wasn’t the kissing I was referring to, but you had no right to do something so intimate in front of others. ”

  “You’re my wife. I’ll do as I like,” he said lazily.

  “You humiliated me,” she said in a tight voice. “Not once but twice this morn. ”

  “You humiliated yourself, Rionna. You have no discipline. No restraint. ”

  She whirled on him, her fist balled. Oh, she’d love to hit him. But she’d only bounce off and probably break her hand in the process.

  She opened her mouth to let him have it, when his expression stopped her.

  It was positively murderous.
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  His eyes went flat, and his jaw twitched.

  His roar nearly flattened her. “Who struck you?”

  Her hand flew to her cheek, and she took a step back. But he was having none of that. He pushed forward and reached up to pull her hand down. With his other hand he touched a finger to the still sore spot.

  “Who dared raise their hand to you?”

  She swallowed and dropped her gaze. “ ’Tis not of import. ”

  “The hell it’s not. Tell me and I’ll kill the bastard. ”

  When she finally dared to lift her gaze back to his, the terrible rage in his eyes puzzled her. He was furious.

  “Did your father do this?”

  Her lips parted in surprise and his lips tightened.

  “I’ll kill him this time,” Caelen muttered.

  “Nay! He isn’t worth your anger. He won’t touch me again. ”

  “Damn right he won’t. ”

  “I took care of the matter. I don’t need your protection. ”

  Caelen gripped her shoulders. “No one touches what is mine. No one does harm to one of my own. You may not think you need my protection, but by all that’s holy, you’ll have it. You may be used to going your own way, Rionna, but that’s done with now. You and I have a responsibility to our clans. ”

  “Responsibility. And what is my responsibility, husband? So far I only see that you wish me to dress and act feminine, never gainsay you, and pretend I’m a witless ninny in front of others. ”

  His eyes narrowed. “Your responsibility is to be loyal to me first and foremost. You’re to be a credit to your clan and mine. You’ll give me heirs. Do that and you’ll find I’m an easy man to get along with. ”

  “You want someone I’m not,” she whispered in a fierce voice tinged with tears. “You want a woman I cannot be. ”

  “Do not engage me in a battle of wills, wife. You’ll only suffer for it. ”

  “Why does it have to be a battle? Why can you not accept me the way I am? Why must I change while you go on as before?”

  His nostrils flared and he dropped his hands from her shoulders. For a moment he turned away from her and stood, legs apart as he stared over the water. When he glanced back at her, anger and impatience simmered in his eyes.

  “Think you that nothing changes for me? I’m married, Rionna. I had no wish to be married. I certainly didn’t prepare for it and certainly not so soon. I’m a warrior. Fighting is what I do. I see to the protection of my clan. Now I’m to be uprooted and must go away from my clan and bind myself to another. I’m expected to lead a people I’ve never met, who won’t trust me any more than I’ll trust them. On top of that, Duncan Cameron wants my brother dead. He wants Mairin for himself, and now Isabel’s life has been in danger since the moment she was set in her mother’s womb.

  “He’s tried to kill Alaric. He’s sent traitors into the very heart of our clan. I should be here. Where I can protect my family. Not playing laird to a people who have no more desire for me as their laird as I have to be one. ”

  “It wasn’t my choice,” she said fiercely.

  “Aye, I know it. ’Tis no matter, though. We are both bound by duty. We have no choice in the matter. ”

  She closed her eyes and turned away so that they stood side by side, gazes fixed anywhere but on each other.

  “Why did you do it then, Caelen? Why did you really do it? You could have remained silent. Why did you step forward to marry me if ’twas such a distasteful chore?”

  He was silent for a long moment before he finally acknowledged her question.

  “Because I could not bear to see my brother wed to you when he loved another. ”

  Pain tightened her chest again.

  “I hope one day your answer will be different,” she said quietly as she turned to walk back toward the keep.

  CHAPTER 5

  It was late when Caelen mounted the stairs to go up to his chamber. He and his brothers had planned late into the night, and on the morrow, he would make his journey to McDonald keep with his new wife to take over his duties as laird.

  Not surprisingly, Gregor McDonald had taken his leave, and a dozen of his best soldiers had departed with him—men that Caelen couldn’t afford to lose.

  The former laird had slunk away like a defeated coward. He hadn’t even bothered to bid his daughter goodbye. Not that Caelen ever wanted him close to Rionna again.

  Aye, ’twas a good thing for the McDonald clan. The question was whether they’d recognize that fact and embrace Caelen as their new laird. Of course they would not. Maybe a few. But Caelen could only imagine how he would feel if he was suddenly presented with a new laird he had no knowledge of.

  He’d never considered that he’d have the duties of laird. That had always fallen to Ewan and then to his heirs. Caelen was a third son and his duty had always been to support his laird. To be unfailingly loyal and offer his life for Ewan and his wife and children.

  It was a daunting task before him. He didn’t know if he was up to it. What if he failed not only his new clan, but his brother and his king? Not to mention his new wife.

 
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