In Bed with a Highlander Page 15


Ewan gave the battle cry and urged his horse down the hill. Around him, his men took up the cry and soon the valley echoed with the thunder of horses. The McCabes descended like avenging hellfire, their savage cries enough to frighten the souls of the dead.

After a faltering hesitation, when it wasn’t clear whether they meant to attack or run, Cameron’s men surged forward. divmet in a clash of swords at the bottom of the hill. Ewan slashed through the first two men he encountered with a deft swing of his sword. He could see the surprise—and the fear—in the eyes of Cameron’s men. They hadn’t expected to encounter a fighting force such as Ewan’s, and Ewan derived unholy satisfaction from that fact.

He glanced quickly to check on his men. He needn’t have worried. Caelen and Alaric were cutting a swath through Cameron’s men while the rest of his soldiers dispatched their foes with expert speed and agility.

Ewan set his sights on Cameron, who still hadn’t dismounted his horse. He stood back, watching his men and barking orders. Ewan single-mindedly cut a path through Cameron’s men until only two soldiers stood between him and Cameron.

He dispatched the first with a slice through the man’s chest. Blood gleamed crimson on his sword as he swung it around to meet the last obstacle to his goal. The soldier glanced warily at Ewan and then back at Cameron. He raised his sword as if to meet Ewan’s advance, but at the last moment he turned and fled.

Ewan’s lips curled into a satisfied smile at the sudden fear in Cameron’s eyes.

“Get off your horse, Cameron. I’d hate to spill the blood of a steed as fine as he.”

Cameron raised his sword, gathered the reins in his other hand, and kicked his horse forward. He charged at Ewan, letting out a bloodcurdling cry.

Ewan deflected the blow and twisted his sword, lifting Cameron’s right out of his hands. It went sailing through the air and landed with a sickening thud into one of the fallen bodies a short distance away.

Ewan spun to meet the next charge, but Cameron never slowed. He spurred his horse to faster speeds and raced across the terrain. Away from his men and from the battle.

As Ewan turned to battle another foe, he snapped his teeth together in fury. Coward. Bloody coward. He’d deserted his men and left them all to die while saving his own arse.

Ewan gave the order for his men to finish it, and he began working his way back toward his brothers. The Cameron soldiers were woefully outmatched.

The remaining commander of Cameron’s ill-fated army evidently came to the same conclusion. He yelled retreat, and his men didn’t just retreat. They fled.

The commander, unlike Cameron, wasn’t a coward. He didn’t flee. He urged his men to beat a hasty retreat and he fought valiantly at their rear, offering his protection—as pathetic as it was—so they could escape to safety.

Ewan signaled his men to give chase, and he turned his sights on the commander.

When Ewan bore down on him, he saw the resignation on the older man’s face. Ewan raised his sword and stalked forward. The commander took one step back, then brought his sword up, prepared to battle to the death.

Ewan swung his sword in a great arch and the blades met with a rounding clang. The older man was weakening. He already had a wound and he was losing blood. On Ewan’s second strike, he knocked the sword from his opponent’s hand and it hit the ground with a clatter.

Death stared back at Ewan from the depths of the man’s eyes. The commander knew it and accepted it as only a warrior could. He sank to his knees and bowed his head in front of Ewan, in acknowledgment of defeat.

Ewan stared down at him, his throat working against the anger that swirled so fierce within him. Had this been what his father had done just before Cameron cut him down? Had his father fought to the bitter end? Or had he known, as this man knew, that defeat was inevitable?

For a long moment, Ewan held his sword above his head, and then he slowly lowered it and looked around at the dying battle. Cameron’s men were scattered across the landscape. Some dead. Some dying. Some fleeing on foot, while others ran their horses into the ground to escape Ewan’s soldiers.

He whistled for his horse, and the commander looked up, surprise glittering in the eyes that had just been shadowed by imminent death.

When Ewan’s horse obediently stopped a mere foot away, Ewan reached back for the sheet bearing Mairin’s virgin blood. He spread it out like a banner, the ends blowing in the wind. Then he wadded it into his hand and thrust it into the commander’s face.

“You will take this back to Cameron,” Ewan said through gritted teeth. “And you will bear my message.”

The commander slowly took the linen and then nodded his acceptance of Ewan’s dictate.

“You will tell Duncan Cameron that Mairin Stuart is now Mairin McCabe. She is my wife. The marriage has been consummated. Tell him that Neamh Álainn will never be his.”

CHAPTER 14

By the time Ewan and his men rode back into the courtyard, it was well past midnight. They were dirty, bloody, tired, but jubilant over such an easy victory.

A celebration would ensue, but Ewan didn’t feel like celebrating. Duncan Cameron had escaped Ewan’s retribution and it burned like sour ale in his belly. He wanted the bastard on the end of his sword, now not only because of what he’d done eight years before, but because of what he’d done to Mairin.

He gave orders to his men to increase the watch. There was much to be done in light of his marriage to Mairin. The keep’s defenses would have to be strengthened, and new alliances, such as one with the McDonalds, were more important than ever.

Even with all of that weighing down on him, his primary thought lay with Mairin. He regretted the haste in which he’d bedded her. He didn’t like guilt. Guilt was for men who made mistakes. Ewan didn’t like the idea of making mistakes or admitting his failures. Aye, but he’d failed the lass and he was at a loss as to how to make it to her.

He took the time to bathe in the loch with the other men. If it weren’t for the fact that a sweet lass lay in his bed, he’d have crawled beneath the covers in his boots and not worried over the mess until morning.

After washing the dirt and blood from his body, he quickly dried and mounted the steps to his chamber. Eagerness drove him. Not only did he want to show the lass a little tenderness, but he burned for her. Before, he’d only tasted of her sweetness. Now he wanted to feast on it.

He quietly opened his chamber door and stepped inside. The room was cloaked in darkness. Only the coals from the fire gave light as he crossed to the bed. She was nestled in the middle of the bed, her hair spread out like a veil of silk. He slid one knee onto the bed and leaned over her, prepared to wake her, when he saw the lump on the other side of her.

Frowning, he peeled back the cover to see Crispen nestled in her arms, his head laying on her bosom. A smile eased his frown when he saw how she had both arms wrapped protectively around him. The lass had taken her role as Crispen’s new mother very seriously. They were tucked in as tight as two kittens on a cold night.

With a sigh, he eased down beside her, resigning himself to the fact that he wouldn’t awaken his wife with kisses or touches this night.

He moved in close until her back was cradled against his chest. Then he curled one arm around both her and Crispen, as he buried his face in Mairin’s sweet-smelling hair.

It was the fastest he’d ever fallen asleep in his life.

He was careful not to wake Mairin or Crispen when he rose just a few hours later. He dressed in the darkness and got his boot caught on something as he tried to walk toward the door. He reached down and picked up the offending material and realized it was Mairin’s dress that she’d worn when she wed him.

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Remembering that he’d torn it in his haste to bed her, he stared down at it for a long moment. The image of Mairin’s wide, shocked eyes and the hurt reflected in them made him frown.

It was just a dress.

Curling it in his hand, he took it with him as he made his way below stairs. Even at the early hour, the keep was already stirring with activity. Caelen and Alaric were just finishing eating and looked up when Ewan entered the hall.

“Marriage has turned you into a slugabed,” Caelen drawled. “We’ve both been up for an hour.”

Ignoring his brother’s jibe, Ewan took his seat at the head of the table. One of the serving women hurried out with a trencher of food and set it in front of Ewan.

“What the hell are you holding, Ewan?” Alaric asked.

Ewan glanced down to see he was still carrying Mairin’s dress tightly clenched in his hand. Instead of answering Alaric, he called the serving girl back.

“Is Maddie about yet?”>

“Aye, Laird. Would you like me to fetch her?”

“At once.”

She dipped a curtsy and hurried out to do his bidding. Mere moments later, Maddie hurried in.

“You called for me, Laird?”

Ewan nodded. “Aye.” He thrust the dress toward the woman, and with a surprised look, she took it. “Can you repair it?”

Maddie turned the material over in her hands, examining the place where the material had rent.

“Aye, Laird. ’Twill only take a needle and thread. I could have it done in no time.”

“See that you do. I’d like for your mistress to have it whole again.”

Maddie smiled, and her eyes sparkled with a knowing look that annoyed him. He scowled at her and motioned her away. Still grinning, she tucked the dress under her arm and left the hall.

“You tore her wedding dress?” Caelen smirked.

“You certainly have a way with the wenches,” Alaric said, shaking his head. “You haul her up the stairs for perhaps what was the fastest consummation on record, and you tear her wedding dress in the process.”

Ewan’s nostrils flared. “She’s not a wench. She’s your sister now and you should speak of her with respect as your mistress and wife to your laird.”

Alaric held up his hands in surrender and leaned back in his chair. “No offense was intended.”

“Touchy, isn’t he?” Caelen said.

Ewan’s glare silenced his youngest brother. “We have much to do today. Alaric, I need you to be my emissary to McDonald.”

Both Alaric and Caelen shot forward in their seats, incredulity etched on their faces.

“What? Ewan, the bastard tried to abduct your son,” Alaric growled.

“He denies knowledge of his soldier’s actions and vows that his soldier acted on his own accord. The soldier is dead now,” Ewan said flatly. “He won’t be a threat to my son ever again. McDonald wants an alliance. ’Tis to his advantage to call us friend. I’ve denied him until now. But his lands would join ours to Neamh Álainn. I want you to make it happen, Alaric.”

“So be it,” Alaric said. “I’ll leave within the hour.”

Alaric strode from the hall to prepare for his journey. Ewan quickly finished his meal and then he and Caelen quit the hall and went to where his men were training.

They stood in the courtyard, watching as the other soldiers sparred and went through ttraining exercises.

“ ’Tis imperative that Mairin be under constant guard,” Ewan said in a low voice to Caelen. “Duncan Cameron won’t give up just because I’ve wed her. There is much to be done, and Mairin must remain inside the keep under careful watch.”

Caelen shot Ewan a wary glance. “Don’t think to saddle me with such a chore. She’s your wife.”

“She’s the future of our clan,” Ewan said in a dangerously soft voice. “You would do well to bear that in mind when you tell me what you will and won’t do. I expect your loyalty to me to extend to her.”

“But a nursemaid, Ewan?” Caelen asked in a pained voice.

“All you have to do is keep her safe. How hard can that be?” Ewan asked. He motioned to his senior commanders when they finished the current round of sparring.

He instructed Gannon, Cormac, and Diormid on his expectations that Mairin be watched over at all times.

“As you wish, Laird. She won’t like it much,” Gannon said.

“I’m not concerned with what she won’t like,” Ewan countered. “My concern is keeping her safe and with me.”

The men nodded their agreement.

“There’s no need to alarm her. I don’t want her to feel unsafe on my land. I want her guarded well but I want it to appear that ’tis just the way of things.”

“You can count on us to keep Lady McCabe safe, Laird,” Cormac vowed.

Satisfied that his men understood the importance of keeping close watch on Mairin, Ewan summoned his messenger and penned a missive to the king informing him of his marriage to Mairin and requesting the release of her dowry.

For the first time in many years, hope beat a steady rhythm in his chest. Not for vengeance. Nay, he’d always known that the day would come when he would repay the wrongs done to his clan. With Mairin’s dowry his clan would prosper once again. Food would be plentiful. Supplies would be on hand. They would cease eking out their existence under spartan conditions.

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