In Bed with a Highlander Page 33


“There’s a bit of a problem with that, Bertha.”

“And what is that?” Bertha demanded.

“I’m keeping her.”

That statement caused a series of murmurs to race through the hall. Both the men and the women leaned forward, curious as to which way the laird would rule. It was clear he was displeased.

“I will not be swayed by blackmail and demands,” he said.

When Bertha puffed out her chest and prepared to launch into another angry tirade, he held up a hand to silence her.

“I will hear what both sides have to say before I render judgment. Once I do, the matter will be final. Is that clear?”

“Only if you decide the right way,” Mairin muttered.

Ewan shot her a quelling look.

The laird turned and it was the truth that he didn’t look pleased as he stared at Heath and the four younger men who stood defiantly by his side. Then he looked to Gannon, who was the most senior of all his men.

“Have you an explanation for this?”

Gannon sighed. “I’m sorry, Laird. I was not present. I was in the courtyard with some of the other soldiers. I had informed them they wouldn’t eat until they performed their maneuvers correctly.”

“I see.” He turned to Cormac, who stood to the side of Diormid and Heath. “Cormac? Have you anything to offer?”

Cormac looked furious. He glanced between the men, who stared expectantly at him, and Ewan, who also awaited his word.

“ ’Tis as our mistress reported, Laird,” he said through tight lips. “I came into the hall just as Heath tripped Christina.” Anger rippled across Cormac’s face as he glanced over at Heath. “ ’Twas not Christina’s fault. The men grew louder with their insults and when Christina offered disagreement, Heath struck her. ȁ God’s truth I would have killed him myself, but Lady McCabe intervened before I could act, and then my foremost concern was her safety.”

Ewan nodded his agreement over Cormac’s assessment, then looked over to where Diormid stood beside Heath. “And do you defend his actions?”

Diormid looked torn in his loyalty to the young men directly under his command. “Nay, Laird. ’Twas not the tale as he told it to me.”

“So you weren’t present for the happenings?” Ewan asked.

Diormid shook his head. “I entered the hall as Lady McCabe was issuing orders for the men to take over the women’s duties for the day.”

“And do you commend his actions? Do you stand by them?” Ewan asked.

Diormid hesitated before finally saying, “Nay, Laird. I am shamed by them.”

Then Ewan turned to Bertha. “You may take the women and retire to your cottages. Or however else you’d like to spend your day of leisure. Robert, Corbin, Ian, and Matthew will see to your duties.”

Mairin frowned at the omission of Heath, but the cheers from the women prevented her from voicing her displeasure.

Equally explosive were the shouts of dismay from the four Ewan had sentenced to the women’s work. They looked so appalled that it was all Mairin could do not to smile her satisfaction.

Bertha beamed at Mairin. “Come, lass, you must celebrate with us.”

Mairin turned to leave the hall with the women when Ewan cleared his throat. Slowly she turned around and peeked up at the laird. Surely he wasn’t angry with her. Not after having heard the full story.

His expression was still stern as he crooked his finger at her. With a sigh, she left Bertha to go to her husband. The women remained in the hall, either curious over what the laird wanted or to defend Mairin from reprimand. Mairin wasn’t sure, but she was grateful for their support.

When she was a respectable distance, she stopped and folded her hands in front of her. “You wanted me?”

He crooked his finger again, and she huffed as she moved even closer. He stretched out his finger and touched her chin, prodding until she was looking directly up at him.

“You have instructions for me, Laird?”

“Aye, lass, I do.”

She cocked her head farther back and waited for his order.

His fingers trailed over her chin to her jaw where Heath’s fist had grazed her. Then he delved into the hair over her ear, his hand cupping the back of her head in his possessive grasp.

“Kiss me.”

font size="+1">CHAPTER 30

Mairin was so relieved that she threw herself into Ewan’s arms and fused her mouth hotly to his.

“You didn’t trust me, lass.”

His voice was reprimanding as he tasted her lips again.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “You did look as if you wanted to yell at me again.”

“Laird, you cannot mean for us to do the women’s chores!”

Ewan turned sharply at Robert’s protest.

“Indeed, I do. If any man has a problem with my command, they are free to leave the keep.”

Heath’s lips turned up into a snarl and Mairin automatically moved farther into Ewan’s hold. The man made her nauseous, and the hatred in his eyes frightened her.

“What of Heath?” she whispered. “Why was he pardoned from the women’s work?”

The scowl that blackened Ewan’s face terrified her. “Stay with Alaric.”

He actually deposited her between Alaric and Caelen before stalking over to where Heath stood. Their shoulders closed in front of her and she stood up on tiptoe, bobbing left and right in an effort to see over or through the two brothers.

When Ewan reached Heath, he didn’t say a word. He drew back and rammed his fist into Heath’s face. Heath fell like a rock. He groaned piteously when Ewan gathered his shirt in his hands and hauled him back up again.

“That was for Christina,” Ewan snarled.

Then he rammed his knee right between Heath’s legs. Alaric and Caelen both winced. Gannon turned white and Cormac flinched and looked away.

“That was for my wife.”

He dropped Heath on the floor, where he promptly curled into a ball. Why, Mairin could swear the man was weeping.

“I’d be weeping, too, lass,” Alaric murmured.

Ewan turned and addressed Gannon in chilling tones. “He dies. Take him away.”

Heath blanched at the death sentence and began begging in hoarse tones. The assembled warriors winced and showed their disgust at the piteous way Heath behaved.

“Aye, Laird. Immediately.”

Gannon bent and hauled Heath to his feet, and he and Cormac dragged him from the hall, Heath still hunched over in pain.

Ewan then turned his attention to the celebrating and ren. “My apologies, Christina, that you suffered such injustice. I do not condone, nor will I accept such behavior from my men. Enjoy your free day from your duties. I doubt my men will do the job you would do in their stead, but the work will be done.”

Mairin’s heart swelled with pride. She was so thrilled by the sincerity in Ewan’s evenly voiced words that her eyes stung and watered. She gripped Caelen’s and Alaric’s arms until her knuckles turned white.

Caelen carefully pried her fingers from his elbow and then rolled his eyes when he noticed her tears. “What on earth are you crying for, lass?”

She sniffled and scrubbed her face against Alaric’s shirt sleeve. “ ’Tis a wonderful thing he’s done.”

Alaric pushed at her head and scowled until she stopped wiping her tears on him.

“He’s a good man,” she said.

“Of course he is,” Caelen said loyally.

Having settled the matter, Ewan walked over to where Mairin stood. Uncaring of how it looked or the fact that he hadn’t invited her this time, she launched herself around Alaric and Caelen and catapulted into Ewan’s arms. She peppered his face with a barrage of kisses and latched onto his neck and squeezed for all she was worth.

“Let me breathe, lass,” Ewan said with a laugh.

“I love you,” she whispered into his ear. “I love you so much.”

And suddenly he was squeezing her every bit as hard as she squeezed him. To her utter shock, he turned and hauled her out of the hall. He took the stairs two at a time and burst into their chamber just moments later.

After he kicked the door shut with his foot, he stared fiercely down at her, his grip so tight around her that she couldn’t squeeze out a single breath.

“What did you say?” he asked hoarsely.

Her eyes widened in surprise at his vehemence.

“Just a moment ago. In the hall. What did you say into my ear?”

She swallowed nervously and fidgeted in his arms. Then she gathered her courage as tightly around her as he held her. “I love you.”

“ ’Tis about damn time,” he growled.

She blinked in confusion. “ ’Tis about time for what?”

“The words. You finally said them.”

“But I only just realized,” she said in bewilderment.

“I knew it already,” he said with smug satisfaction.

“You did not. I didn’t even harw it, so how could you?”

He grinned. “So tell me, lass, how did you plan to spend your afternoon of leisure?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Perhaps I’ll go find Crispen and play with him and the other children.”

Ewan shook his head.

“Nay?” she questioned.

“Nay.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve decided that an afternoon of leisure sounds extremely appealing.”

Her eyes widened in astonishment. “You have?”

“Mmm-hmm. I wondered if perhaps you were willing to be leisurely with me.”

“ ’Tis a sin to be slothful,” she whispered.

“Aye, but what I have in mind has nothing to do with being a sloth.”

She blushed furiously at the suggestion in his voice. “You’ve never taken the afternoon off from your duties.”

“My most important duty is to see to the needs of my wife.” He cupped the area of her cheek where Heath had struck her, and his gaze darkened.

“Do you really mean to kill him, Ewan?” she whispered.

Ewan scowled. “He struck you. You are wife to the laird, mistress of this keep. I tolerate no disrespect and I damn sure will kill any man who ever touches you.”

Mairin twisted her hands, guilt surging through her. “I provoked him shamelessly. I called him terrible names. I used words no lady should ever use. Mother Serenity would wash my mouth out with soap.”

Ewan sighed. “What would you have me do, Mairin? He’s been a problem before today. He’d already used up his allotment of chances. Even if he hadn’t struck you, I would not tolerate him raising a hand to another woman in this clan.”

“Can you banish him? I would think that a man with no home and no means would suffer far more than if you offered him a quick and easy death. Maybe he’ll starve to death or a pack of wolves will descend upon him.”

Ewan reared back in surprise and then he laughed, the throaty sound sending prickles of delight down Mairin’s spine.

“You’re a bloodthirsty lass.”

She nodded. “Aye, Alaric said as much.”

“Why is it important that I not do the killing, Mairin? ’Tis my right as laird and as your husband.”

“Because I feel at fault for provokrougm so. If he hadn’t struck me, you wouldn’t have ordered his death for striking Christina. Not that you wouldn’t have punished him,” she rushed to say.

“So you’d rather he be ravaged by a pack of wolves.”

She nodded.

He chuckled. “So be it, lass. I’ll have Gannon escort him off our lands with the order never to return.”

She threw her arms around him and squeezed as hard as she could. “I love you.”

He pulled her away and then leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose. “Say it again.”

She twisted her lips and scowled up at him. “You’re a demanding man, Laird.”

His lips found hers and he drank deeply, rubbing his tongue over her mouth until she opened to let him in.

“Say it,” he whispered.

“I love you.”

With a low groan, he gathered her in his arms and walked her back until her legs hit the edge of the bed. He swept her down and then rolled until she was sprawled indelicately atop him. He pushed at her clothing, baring first her shoulders and then her arms. He gripped her upper arms and pulled her down so that he nuzzled her neck. Ah, but his lips were magic.

Determined that he wouldn’t be the only one doing the torturing, she bent and ran her tongue over the thick cords in his neck. Smiling when he flinched and went rigid underneath her, she sank her teeth into his flesh, inhaling his male scent. She savored his taste, rolling her tongue over every line and dip.

“Mairin?”

She leaned up so she could look down into Ewan’s eyes. “Aye, husband?”

“Do you have a particular fondness for this dress?”

She frowned. “Well nay, ’tis a work gown after all.”

“Good.”

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