In Bed with a Highlander Page 23


Arthur snorted. “That’s because Magnus has a mouth the size of a mountain.”

Mairin held up a hand. “Rather than trouble your laird over such an inconsequential matter, perhaps I can be of help.”

Magnus rubbed his hands together and cast a triumphant glance in Athur’s direction. “There, you see? The lass will determine who has the right of it.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and didn’t look impressed with Mairin’s offer.

“There is no right or wrong of it,” Arthur said matter-of-factly. “The mare is mine. Always has been. Gannon knows.”

Gannon closed his eyes and shook his head.

“I see,” Mairin said. Then she looked at Magnus. “You dispute Arthur’s claim to the mare?”

“I do,” he said emphatically. “Two months past, he became enraged because the mare bit him on the—”

“There is no need to say where she bit me,” Arthur hastily broke in. “ ’Tis sufficient to say she bit me. Th in Athur&2019;s all that’s important.”

Magnus leaned in and whispered. “She bit him on the arse, my lady.”

Her eyes went wide. Gannon issued a sharp reprimand to Magnus for speaking to his mistress in such an indelicate fashion, but Magnus didn’t look the least repentant.

“Anyway, once the mare bit Arthur, he became so enraged that he turned her loose, slapped her on the flanks, and told the ungrateful …” He stopped and cleared his throat. “Well, he told her not to bother ever returning. It was cold out and raining, you see. I took the mare in, dried her, and gave her some oats. So you see, the mare belongs to me. Arthur relinquished all claim to her.”

“My lady, the laird has already heard their complaint,” Gannon whispered to her.

“And what did the laird decide?” she whispered back.

“He told them to work it out between themselves.”

Mairin made a sound of exasperation. “That wasn’t particularly helpful.”

This would be as good a starting point as any to assert her authority and show her clan that she was a worthy mate to their laird. Ewan was a busy man, and matters such as this should be settled without pulling him into a petty argument.

She turned back to the men, who’d begun bickering again. She held up her hands for silence, and when that didn’t work, she put her fingers between her lips and issued a sharp whistle.

Both men flinched and turned to stare at her in astonishment.

“A lady doesn’t whistle,” Arthur reprimanded.

“Aye, he’s right, my lady.”

“Oh, so now the two of you are prepared to agree on something,” Mairin muttered. “It was the only way to quiet you.”

“You wanted something?” Magnus asked.

She folded her hands neatly in front of her, satisfied that she had the perfect plan to solve the argument.

“I’ll have Gannon cut the mare in half and give you each an equal portion. ’Tis the only fair way to go about it.”

Arthur and Magnus stared at her then looked at each other. Gannon closed his eyes again and didn’t say a word.

“She’s daft,” Arthur said.

Magnus nodded. “The poor laird. He must have been tricked. He’s married a daft lass.”

Mairin put her hands on her hips. “I am not daft!”

Arthur shook his head, a light of sympathy in his eyes. “Maybe daft is too strong a word. Addled. Aye, maybe ee addled. Did you suffer an injury to your head recently?”

“Nay, I did not!”

“As a child then?” Magnus asked.

“I am in perfect command of my faculties,” she snapped.

“Then why in God’s name did you suggest we cut the mare in two?” Arthur demanded. “That’s the most daft thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“It worked for King Solomon,” she muttered.

“King Solomon ordered a horse cut in half?” Magnus asked in a confused voice.

“Who is King Solomon? He’s not our king. I bet he’s English. ’Twould be a very English thing to do,” Arthur said.

Magnus nodded in agreement. “Aye, all English are daft.” Then he turned to Mairin. “Be you English, lass?”

“Nay! Why on earth would you ask something like that?”

“Maybe she has some English blood,” Arthur said. “ ’Twould explain things.”

She gripped her head and felt the sudden, violent urge to pull out her hair by the roots.

“King Solomon suggested a baby be cut in half when two women both claimed to be its mother.”

Even Gannon looked appalled. Magnus and Arthur gaped at her and then shook their heads.

“And the English claim we’re barbarians,” Arthur grumbled.

“King Solomon wasn’t English,” she said patiently. “And the point was that the real mother would be so horrified over the thought of her baby being killed that she would give the baby to the other mother to spare the child’s life.”

She looked pointedly at them, hoping they’d understand the moral, but they still stared at her as if she’d spewed a litany of blasphemies.

“Oh, never mind,” she snapped. She stalked forward, grabbed the reins from an astonished Magnus, and pulled the hapless mare along as she headed back toward the keep.

“My lady, what are you doing?” Gannon hissed, as he jogged to keep up with her.

“Hey, she’s stealing our horse!” Magnus cried.

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“Our horse? ’Tis my horse, you dolt.”

She ignored the two men as they began bickering all over again.

“ ’Tis clear that neither one of them deserves the poor horse,” Mairin said. “I’ll take her to Ewan. He’ll know what to do.”

Gannon’s expression told her he had no love of taking the horse to his laird. “Don’t worry, Gannon. I’ll tell him you tried to stop me.”

“You will?”

The hopeful tone in his voice amused her.

She stopped in the middle of the courtyard, suddenly aware that there were no men training and no sign of Ewan.

“Well, where is he?” she asked in exasperation. “Oh, never mind,” she said when Gannon failed to immediately respond. “I’ll take the horse to your stable master. You do have a stable master, don’t you?”

“Aye, my lady, we most certainly do, but—”

“Point me in the direction of the stables then,” she said before he could continue. “I really should have familiarized myself with everything on the McCabe lands by now. I’ve been around the keep and to the women’s cottages but beyond that I’m frightfully ignorant. Tomorrow we’ll rectify that.”

Gannon blinked. “We will?”

“Aye, we will. Now, the stables?”

Gannon sighed and pointed across the courtyard to a pathway leading beyond the stone skirt that sheltered the courtyard. Mairin set off again, leading the mare past the wall.

She followed the worn path until she reached the far side of the keep where she saw an old structure that she assumed must be the stables. There was new wood framing the doorway, but there were also places that looked scorched by an old fire. The roof had been patched and looked to be sturdy enough to hold out the rain and snow.

She was annoyed to see Magnus and Arthur standing in front of the archway that led into the area where the laird’s horses were cared for. They watched her warily as she approached, and she scowled to show them the full force of her displeasure.

“You’re not getting the horse back,” she bellowed. “I’m giving the horse to the stable master so she’ll be cared for appropriately.”

“I am the stable master, you daft lass,” Arthur bellowed back.

“You will address your mistress with respect,” Gannon roared.

Mairin gaped at Arthur and then turned to Gannon. “Stable master? This … This … cretin is the stable master?”

Gannon sighed. “I tried to tell you, my lady.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Mairin sputtered. “He has as much business running a stable as I do.”

“I do a fine job,” Arthur snapped. “And I’d do it a lot better if I wasn’t having to chase down people who steal my horse.”

“You’re relieved of duty, sir.”

“You can’t relieve me of duty!” Arthur screeched. “Only the laird can do that.”

“I’m the mistress of this keep and I say you’ve been relieved,” Mairin said belligerently. She turned to Gannon. “Tell him.”

Gannon looked a little uncertain, but he stood behind his mistress. She nodded approvingly as Gannon informed the older man that he’d indeed been relieved of duty.

Arthur stomped away muttering all manner of blasphemies while Magnus looked on with a smug smile.

“Is it any wonder the horse bit him on the arse?” Mairin muttered as Arthur disappeared.

She handed the reins to Gannon. “Will you put her into a stall and make sure she’s fed?”

Ignoring Gannon’s disgruntled look, she turned to head back in the direction of the keep. She was quite pleased with herself. She’d not only managed to escape the confines of the keep without running into her husband, but she’d also handled a difficult situation. Her first duty as mistress of the keep. She smiled and hurried up the steps and entered the great hall.

She waved at Cormac on her way through. “I’m just going up to change for the evening meal. Gannon will be along shortly. He’s taking care of a horse for me.”

Cormac rose, his brow creased in confusion. “A horse?”

Mairin fairly skipped up the stairs. The day hadn’t been a complete waste. In fact, it had been quite lovely. And she was making strides in her bid to take an active part in the keep’s activities. Why, she’d made a decision and hadn’t even bothered Ewan over such a trivial matter. It was the least she could do. He had many important duties and the more she could smooth things for him, the more he’d be able to concentrate on those duties.

She splashed water on her face and brushed the dust from her dress. Aye, it had been a good day, and her wound wasn’t even paining her.

“Mairin!”

She flinched as the laird’s roar carried all the way up the stairs and through her chamber door. He bellowed loud enough to shake the rafters.

With a shake of her head, she picked up her brush and made quick work of the tangles in her hair. If maneuvering her left arm didn’t prick at her side, she’d take the time to braid her hair. Maybe by morning.

“Mairin, present yourself at once!”

She dropped her brush and scowled. Lord, but the man was impatient. After one more pat of her dress she headed down the stairs. When she rounded the corner into the hall, she saw Ewan standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest, a deep scowl etched around his mouth.

To the side stood Arthur and Magnus along with Gannon and Caelen. A few of Ewan’s men tarried around the tables, having taken a keen interest in the fuss.

She came to a stop in front of Ewan and smiled demurely up at him. “You summoned me, Laird?”

Ewan’s scowl deepened. Then he ran a hand through his hair and looked heavenward. “In the course of the last hour, you’ve stolen a man’s horse and somehow managed to leave me without a stable master. Would you care to explain yourself, lass?”

“I settled a dispute,” she said. “And when I discovered that this odious man who clearly abuses his horses was responsible for your horses, Laird, I remedied the situation.”

“You had no authority to do either,” Ewan said tightly. “Your duties are quite simple. Obey me and don’t interfere with the running of this keep.”

Hurt squeezed her chest. Humiliation tightened her cheeks as she looked from man to man. She saw sympathy in Gannon’s expression, but in Caelen’s she saw agreement.

Not trusting that she wouldn’t further humiliate herself, she turned away and walked rigidly back out of the hall.

“Mairin!” Ewan roared.

She ignored him and increased her pace. She bypassed the stairs and slipped out of one of the doorways leading to the outside.

Odious, impossible, infuritating. All of them. They accused her of being daft, but this was the daftest clan she’d ever come across.

Tears burned her eyes, and she angrily dashed them away. Dusk had fallen over the keep, blanketing it in hues of lavender and gray. The chill nipped at her but she paid no heed, as she hurried across the empty courtyard.

One of the guards on the wall called a warning to her but she waved him off and told him she had no intention of going far. She just needed to be away. Away from Ewan’s roaring and the censure in his eyes.

She kept in line with the wall of the keep, making sure to remain inside the stone skirt. There had to be a place somewhere that afforded privacy while still offering safety.

Her solution came in the form of the old bathhouses in the rear of the keep. There was even a bench in the shell of the stone walls. She ducked under a sagging doorway and settled herself on the bench that lined the only wall still standing in its entirety.

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