In Bed with a Highlander Page 21

Caelen rolled his eyes. “I think he’ll understand this time.”

“Well, I don’t,” she said crossly. “It isn’t decent. No one should see me in bed except the laird. Do you know what I told him?”

Ewan raised one eyebrow. “Perhaps ’tis best if you keep such matters to yourself, lass.”

She ignored him and rambled on. “I told him that he was unskilled at loving. I don’t think he was pleased with that statement.”

Despite Ewan’s glare, Caelen burst into laughter.

“Oh, it isn’t polite to laugh at your laird,” Mairin said in a solemn voice. “Besides, ’tis not true. I was quite wrong.”

Ewan moved a hand to cover her mouth so she wouldn’t blurt out anything else in her drunken state. “I think you’ve said enough.”

He ignored Caelen’s amused look and signaled that he was ready to begin.

Caelen grimaced, and something remarkably like sympathy flashed in his eyes when Mairin jumped at the first prick of the needle.

A whimper escaped from Mairin when he set the second stitch.

“Hurry,” she whispered.

“I will, lass, I will.”

In battle his hand never shook. It remained steady around the sword. It had never failed him. Not once. Yet here, doing such a simple task as setting needle to skin, he had to call on every bit of his control to keep his fingers precise.

By the time he tightened the final stitch, Mairin shook uncontrollably beneath his hand. Caelen’s fingers were white from the pressure he exerted on her shoulder, and y">Ewas sure she’d wear bruises.

“Let her go,” Ewan said in a quiet voice. “I’m finished.”

Caelen released her shoulder and Ewan waved him from the chamber. After Caelen closed the door behind him, Ewan reached down to touch Mairin’s cheek only to find it wet with tears.

“I’m sorry, lass. I’m sorry it was necessary to hurt you.”

She opened her tightly closed eyes, and tears shimmered in the blue depths. “It didn’t hurt overly much.”

She was lying but he felt a surge of pride at her bravado.

“Why don’t you get some rest now? I’ll have Maddie bring you a tisane for the pain.”

“Thank you, Ewan,” she whispered.

He leaned down and brushed a kiss across her brow. He waited until she’d closed her eyes before he backed away and retreated from the chamber.

Outside the door, his demeanor swiftly changed from caretaker to warrior.

He went in search of Maddie first and gave her instructions not to leave Mairin’s bedside. Then he found Cormac, Diormid, and Gannon in the courtyard questioning his men.

“Have you found anything yet?” he asked.

“We still have the majority of the men to question, Laird. It’ll take some time,” Gannon said. “There were many men practicing archery, but no one can account for the errant shot.”

“This is unacceptable. Someone struck Lady McCabe whether by accident or intent. I want that man.” He turned to Diormid. “Were you not supervising the archery? Can you not account for your men?”

Diormid bowed his head. “Aye, Laird, I take full responsibility. Every one under me will be questioned at length. I will find the man responsible.”

Ewan shook his head grimly. “I will not have the children of this keep unprotected. ’Tis as Mairin says. They should have a safe place to play and be children without their mothers worrying that they’ll be killed by a stray arrow. From now on, the children will play behind the keep on the hillside, far away from where the men train.”

“Where they play now is plenty distant from the courtyard,” Cormac said with a fierce frown. “What happened today should not have occurred.”

“Aye, but it did,” Ewan bit back. “I don’t want it to ever happen again. You will gather the men after the questioning. I want to address them.”

It was well past midnight before Ewan trudged wearily up to his chamber. They’d questioned every single clansman, even the children, and no one could recall seeing anything untoward. The men practicing archery swore that none of them was responsible, and yet the arrow had been a McCabe arrow. There was no doubt about that. Afterward, he’d given his men a dressing down about being more careful in their training. If they couldn’t keep the people of their own clan safe from themselves, how were they to protect them from outside threats?

Ewan let himself into his room, and Maddie stirred from her position by the fire.

“How is she?” Ewan asked in hushed tones.

Maddie rose and crept silently to stand in front of Ewan. “She’s resting better now. She was in pain before, but after I gave her the tisane, she calmed and was able to rest better. I changed her dressing an hour past. The bleeding has stopped. You did a fine job stitching her, Laird.”

“Any sign of fever?”

“Not yet. She’s cool to the touch, just restless. I think she’ll be just fine.”

“Thank you, Maddie. You can retire to your cottage now. I appreciate you sitting with Mairin.”

“I was glad to do it, Laird. If you have need of anything else, send for me at once.”

She bobbed a curtsy and then walked by him and out the door.

Ewan undressed and slipped into bed beside Mairin, careful not to jar her. As soon as his body touched hers, she stirred and snuggled into his arms like a warm kitten on a cold night. She uttered a deep sigh against his neck and proceeded to wrap her legs around his while throwing one arm over his body.

He smiled. She was a possessive thing in bed. She considered his body her territory and she had no compunction about laying claim whenever he got near. Not that he minded. In truth, there was something about having a warm, sweet lass wrapped around him that appealed to him more than he’d ever thought possible.

He touched one strand of hair, allowing it to curl around the tip of his finger. He wasn’t a man ruled by fear, but when he’d realized that Mairin had been shot, he’d experienced a wash of terror unlike anything he’d ever known. The idea that he could have lost her didn’t sit well with him.

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He could make a lot of excuses, including the biggest, that if she died, Neamh Álainn would never be his. His clan would never be rebuilt. Revenge would never be his. All of those things were true. But the simplest truth was that he hadn’t wanted to lose her. None of the other things had even crossed his mind when he’d frantically examined her injuries.

Aye, the lass was getting under his skin. He’d been right about her from the moment he’d first laid eyes on her. She was definitely trouble.


When Mairin awoke, the pain in her head overshadowed the pain in her side. She licked over her cracked lips but it wasn’t enough to rid herselfe horrible taste in her mouth.

What on earth had the laird done to her? All she remembered was him ordering her to drink some foul liquid and having to choke it down. Even the memory made her stomach lurch precariously.

She rolled, testing the tenderness in her side, but ran into a warm, snuggly body. She smiled and curled her arm around Crispen and hugged him tight.

He opened his eyes and snuggled closer to her bosom. “Are you all right, Mama?”

“Aye, dearling, I’m perfectly well. I hardly feel a pinch. ’Twas just a little cut.”

“I was scared.”

His voice wavered and her heart squeezed at the uncertainty in his voice. “I’m sorry you were afraid.”

“Did it hurt? Maddie told me that Papa had to stitch you up. I would think that would hurt a lot.”

“Aye, it did, but not overmuch. Your father had a good, steady hand and he was quick about it.”

“Papa is the best,” Crispen said, with all the confidence a young boy has in his father. “I knew he’d take care of you.”

Mairin smiled and kissed the top of his head. “I have need to get out of this bed. I’ve lain here so long that my muscles are all stiff and sore. Would you like to help me?”

Crispen scrambled from the bed and then made a big show of aiding Mairin to her feet.

“You should go to your chamber and dress for the day. I’ll meet you below stairs. Perhaps Gertie will have food for the both of us.”

He gave her a huge grin and then scampered off, slamming the door behind him.

Mairin stretched as soon as he was gone, and winced. It truly wasn’t bad. She hadn’t told a lie. Just a twinge or two when she moved wrong. It certainly wasn’t enough to keep her abed.

She turned to retrieve a gown from her wardrobe, when a flash of color caught her eye. Her gaze was drawn to the small table sitting near the window. On top of it lay a neatly folded pile of fabric.

It was her wedding dress. Forgetting all about her injury, she hurried over and delved her fingers into the sumptuous fabric. Then she yanked it upward and allowed the dress to unfold. Why, it was as good as new. There was no evidence of the rend.

She hugged the material to her chin and closed her eyes in delight. It was silly to be so emotional over a dress, but a woman only got married once, didn’t she? She frowned. Well, most of the time. She wouldn’t think on such matters as the laird dying and leaving her a widow.

She stroked the dress one last time, enjoying the softness as it glided over her fingers. Then she carefully put it away so it would keep until the next time she had an occasion to wear it.

em">Eager to leave her chamber, she went about pulling her gown on, her gestures awkward as she tried to arrange the dress with as little movement on her left side as possible.

As best she could, she brushed out her hair and left it down, since braiding it was going to be an impossibility one-handed. When she was satisfied that she didn’t look quite so haggard, she left the chamber, hoping she wasn’t too late for the morning meal.

And it was high time she saw to her duties as mistress of the keep. Surely that would keep her out of trouble with Ewan.

The days since her wedding had passed in a blur, and other than making the acquaintance of other women in the clan, Mairin hadn’t done much of anything besides trying to avoid her faithful watchdogs.

Well, enough of all that. It was time to take things in hand. After taking an arrow in the side, she wasn’t enthused about venturing out of the keep anyway.

When she entered the hall, she was greeted with looks of horror from her clansmen. Gannon and Cormac were involved in a heated debate, but when they saw her, they broke off and stared as if she’d grown two heads. Maddie, who was passing through as Mairin made her entrance, immediately threw up her hands and rushed over to where Mairin stood.

“My lady, you should still be abed,” Gannon exclaimed as he and Cormac also hurried over.

“Aye,” Maddie agreed. “You shouldn’t be up. I was about to bring up a tray for you to eat in bed.”

Mairin raised her hands to silence them. “I appreciate your concern. Truly, I do. But I’m perfectly fine. Staying abed serves no purpose except to drive me daft.”

“The laird won’t like this,” Cormac muttered.

“What has the laird to do with it?” Mairin demanded. “He should be relieved to know I’m back on my feet and ready to take on my duties as mistress of this keep.”

“You should rest, lass,” Maddie said soothingly, as she turned Mairin back in the direction of the stairs. “You wouldn’t want to aggravate your injury.”

Mairin shook off Maddie’s hand and turned back to the hall, only to run into Gannon.

“Now, my lady, you should be abed,” he said firmly.

“I’m fine,” she insisted. “Why, I don’t feel a bit of pain. Well, maybe a twinge or two,” she added when Cormac shot her a disbelieving look. “But ’tis no reason to stay in bed on such a fine day. I’ll even allow you to accompany me,” she said to both Gannon and Cormac.

“You’ll allow?” Gannon asked with a scowl.

She nodded and smiled serenely. “Aye, I will. I’ll be no trouble. You’ll see.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Cormac muttered.

“Maddie, I’ve need of your assistance if you’re willing to give it.”

Maddie looked confused. “Of course I’ll help you, my lady, but I still think you should go above stairs and lie down. Perhaps you can tell me what it is you need assistance with, while you eat your meal in bed.”

Mairin faced them all down and let her displeasure show. “There is absolutely no reason for me to go to bed.”

“There is every reason, wife.”

Cormac’s and Gannon’s shoulders sagged in relief while Maddie let out a sigh. Mairin turned to see her husband standing behind her, a look of mild annoyance on his face.

“Why is it I can’t expect even the least bit of cooperation from you?”

Mairin’s mouth fell open. “That’s … That’s … well, that’s quite a rude thing to say, Laird. You’re implying I’m difficult. I’m not difficult.” She whirled back around to face the others. “Am I?”

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