In Bed with a Highlander Page 19


Bertha nodded, her lips compressed as her head bobbed up and down. “Nothing wrong with a nice, dirty romp.”

Mairin could scarcely believe what she was hearing. She was going to have to think on this matter. Before she could thank Maddie and Bertha and be on her way, a pounding on the door startled the women.

Maddie rose and went to the door, Mairin and Bertha right behind her. Mairin had a very good idea who was at the door, but when Maddie opened it, it was worse than Mairin had feared.

It wasn’t Cormac waiting to lecture her. Ewan stood with Caelen, arms crossed over his chest, a scowl darkening his features. Christina stood to the side, her eyes apologetic.

“Care to explain yourself?” Ewan demanded.

CHAPTER 17

Instead of answering her husband, Mairin turned to Maddie and Bertha and offered a polite curtsy. “Thank you both for your counsel.”

When she turned around again, Ewan was still glaring holes in her while Caelen looked annoyed that he’d been summoned on the errand to locate Mairin. She tried to walk past Ewan as she exited Maddie’s cottage, but he didn’t budge. She shoved but he was an immovable object.

Finally she stepped back. “You wished to speak with me, Laird?”

Ewan emitted a loud sigh and then took her arm in his not-so-gentle grasp. Mairin offered a wave to the women as Ewan hauled her along beside him. She stumbled and had to run to keep up, else she’d find herself dragged across the ground by her fuming husband.

She glanced over her shoulder to see Caelen following close behind. She shot him a disgruntled look in the hopes he’d disappear, but he didn’t look impressed with her silent demand for privacy.

Finally Ewan halted some distance from the cottages. He loomed over her like some avenging warrior out for blood. Though she tried to face him bravely, some part of her shrunk to a ridiculous size. He was angry. Nay, angry didn’t aptly describe his mood. He was furious.

It took him a few moments and repeated attempts before he was able to get his reprimand out. His mouth opened and snapped shut several times and he looked away as if collecting his temper.

She waited demurely, her hands folded together, and she stared up at him with wide eyes.

“Don’t even look at me with those doe eyes,” Ewan growled. “You disobeyed me. Again. I’ve half a mind to lock you in our chamber. Forever.”

When she didn’t respond to that threat, Ewan blew out his breath.

“Well? What explanation would you like to offer for sending Cormac on an erran and then promptly leaving his escort?”

“I needed to speak with Maddie,” Mairin said.

Ewan stared at her for a long moment. “That’s it? You disregarded not only my order but acted in complete disregard for your safety because you needed to speak to Maddie?”

“ ’Twas a delicate matter,” Mairin defended.

Ewan closed his eyes and his lips moved in silence. Was he counting? It made no sense to practice mathematics at such a time.

“And you couldn’t have had Cormac walk you to Maddie’s cottage?”

She looked at him in horror. “Nay! Of course not. It wasn’t a matter for a man to hear. ’Twas a private issue and one I had no wish to discuss in front of others.”

Ewan’s eyes rolled heavenward. “He could have waited outside the cottage.”

“He might have overheard through the window,” Mairin countered.

“My time is too valuable to spend scouring the keep every time you decide you need to have a private word with one of the women,” Ewan declared. “From now on, you’ll either have the escort of one of my brothers or my commanders. If you persist in your actions, you’ll be confined to your chamber. Is that understood?”

Caelen didn’t look any more pleased with Ewan’s dictate than she was. It was apparent he was appalled by the duty Ewan had charged him with.

“I said, is that understood?”

Mairin reluctantly nodded.

Ewan turned and pointed at Caelen. “You stay with Mairin. I have immediate matters to attend to.”

The annoyed look on Caelen’s face didn’t sit well with Mairin, so she stuck out her tongue at him as Ewan strode away in the direction of the courtyard.

Caelen crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Mairin. “Perhaps it would be best if you return to the hall for the noon meal.”

“Oh, but I’m not hungry anymore,” Mairin said cheerfully. “Maddie was kind enough to provide me with a bowl of delicious rabbit stew.”

Caelen scowled. “Then perhaps you should go up to your chamber and take a nap. A long nap.”

“Mairin! Mairin!”

Mairin turned in the direction of Crispen’s voice to see him running toward her with three other children trailing him.

“Mairin, come play with us,” Crispen said, tugging at her hand. “We’re having races and we need you to judge.”

She smiled and allowith.

Caelen sighed loudly and lengthened his stride to keep up with them, but Mairin didn’t pay him any attention. If he must watch over her at every turn, she would do her best to pretend he wasn’t there.

She laughed softly at the idea of pretending a man of Caelen’s size could possibly be overlooked. He was as fierce and as muscled as any of Ewan’s warriors, and he loomed over her like a giant tree.

Nay, she wouldn’t be successful in pretending he wasn’t following her, but she could ignore him at least.

A peek at his harried expression made unwanted guilt surge inside her chest. She frowned. She didn’t want to feel guilty. Not for wanting a bit of freedom now that she was away from the abbey.

But still, the guilt grew until she was wringing her hands in front of her as she followed Crispen and the other children to an area adjacent to the keep.

She stopped abruptly and whirled around, causing Caelen to nearly run into her. “I’ve decided to cooperate and allow you to escort me about the keep.”

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Caelen merely raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “You expect me to believe you’re going to meekly submit to Ewan’s wishes?”

She shook her head mournfully. “I’ve been unfair. I offer my apologies. It isn’t your fault your laird is unreasonable. Nay, the fault lies with him. You’re only doing your duty. I should endeavor to make it easier and not harder for you. I’m well aware of the burden he has given you.”

If she expected him to refute the idea that she was a burden, she was sorely disappointed. He merely gazed at her with a bored expression.

“At any rate, I give my word that I won’t resort to trickery again,” she said solemnly.

She turned back to the children who were arguing over who got to race first. She waded into the fray, laughing and fending off overeager hands.

An hour later, she was exhausted. Who knew children could drain the life right out of a body? Mairin stopped in her pursuit of Crispen and bent over as she gasped for air in a decidedly unladylike fashion.

The screaming children surrounded her and she turned to find Caelen surveying the goings-on with something that looked very much like a grimace.

“I should make you chase them,” she called. “You’re supposed to be guarding me.”

“Guarding, not herding children,” came Caelen’s terse reply.

“I think we should attack him,” Mairin muttered.

“Oh, let’s do!” Crispen whispered.

“Aye, aye!” the children surrounding them chanted.

Mairin smiled as the evil thought coalesced. The image of the warrior on the ground begging for mercy would be a sight to behold.

“All right,” she whispered back. “But we must be stealthy about it.”

“Like warriors!” Robbie exclaimed.

“Aye, like warriors. Like your fathers,” she added.

The boys puffed out their chests, but the few girls who had assembled looked disgruntled.

“What about us, Mairin?” Gretchen, a girl of eight years, asked. “Girls can be warriors, too.”

“Nay, they can’t!” Crispen said in an appalled voice. “Fighting is for men. Girls are to be protected. My papa said so.”

The looks in the girls’ eyes were murderous, so to prevent a civil war among the children, Mairin gathered them all close. “Aye, girls can be warriors, too, Gretchen. Here’s what we must do.”

The huddled together and she whispered her instructions.

The boys weren’t happy with their role in the attack. The girls were delighted with theirs. After a quick recounting of their instructions, the girls broke away and skipped toward the keep. As soon as they were past Caelen, they halted and turned back to sneak up on him from behind. Caelen was too distracted by the crowd of rowdy boys approaching him from the front.

He looked suspiciously at Crispen and then over his head to Mairin. She smiled innocently and waited.

Caelen never knew what hit him. Screaming like banshees, the girls hit him from behind. They leapt on Caelen’s back and swarmed over him like a horde of locusts.

Shouting his surprise, Caelen went down amid a tangle of arms and legs and squeals of delight. The boys, not to be outdone, added their own war cries and leapt onto the pile.

After his initial surprise and much hollering and shouting, Caelen took his attack with grace. He laughed and wrestled with the children but was finally forced to cry mercy when the girls pinned him to the ground and demanded he surrender.

Caelen threw his arms up and laughingly offered his surrender. Mairin was astounded by the change in the warrior. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him smile, much less laugh with obvious enjoyment as he tussled with the children. She stared at the goings-on with an open mouth, shaking her head at how good Caelen was with the children. She’d imagined that she’d have to step in rather quickly to defend them against his anger.

The girls were quick to cry victory while the boys protested that they had been the ones to gain Caelen’s acquiescence.

“Caelen, Crispen said girls can’t be warriors, that ’tis the boys’ duty to be warriors and protect the girls,” Gretcen said in disgust. “But Mairin said that girls can be warriors, too. Who has the right of it?”

Caelen chuckled. “Crispen is right in that ’tis a warrior’s duty to protect his lady and those weaker. However, your mistress makes a very good case for a woman warrior. She may have us all begging for mercy before the month is out.”

“I think you speak the truth, brother.”

Mairin whirled around to see Ewan and his commanders standing a short distance away, looking in amusement at Caelen’s sound defeat at the children’s hands.

She swallowed nervously, sure she was about to be handed another stern lecture about her duties, but Ewan walked forward to pick up one of the children and give him a sound dusting off.

Gretchen beamed at Mairin as she sat on Caelen’s broad chest. “I want to be a warrior like our laird. Why, I beat up Robbie just last week.”

“Did not!” Robbie roared.

“Did so.”

To Mairin’s horror, Robbie flew at Gretchen, toppling her from Caelen’s chest. She needn’t have worried, however. The lass obviously hadn’t boasted in vain. She flipped Robbie over and was soon straddling him and holding his arms to the ground.

Mairin sighed and went to prevent an all-out war between the girls and the boys. Ewan got there at the same time she did and reached for Robbie as she bent over to pluck Gretchen off the struggling boy.

Pain seared through her side, and then to her shock, an arrow hit the ground right beside the children and embedded deeply into the soil. Why, it had passed just between her and Ewan!

She stared aghast, appalled at how close it had come to hitting one of the children. She whirled around to locate the offending archer but found herself toppled to the ground as Caelen dove over her.

“Leave off!” she exclaimed, as she beat at Caelen’s shoulder. “What on earth are you doing? See to the children.”

“Quiet!” he barked. “Ewan is seeing to the children’s safety.”

“This is inexcusable!” Mairin exclaimed. “How could they be so careless? The children could have been killed!”

Caelen covered her mouth and slowly moved his body from hers. He looked around and Mairin could see only Ewan with his arms full of children, as he, too, surveyed the area with sharp eyes. Gannon and Cormac each had a position over the remaining children and they lay still, awaiting their laird’s command.

Ewan cursed, and Mairin frowned at him for uttering blasphemies in front of the children. It was another thing she’d take up with him at first opportunity.

Ewan raised his head and bellowed an order. Soon the area swarmed with his men. The children were hustled back toward the kp under heavy guard, as Ewan stood and looked down at Mairin.

Caelen picked himself up from the ground and he and Ewan reached a hand down to slip under her arms. She was hoisted to her feet and she slapped at her skirts, shaking the dust off in a cloud.

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