In Bed with a Highlander Page 39


A cry rippled across the room as Mairin shot to her feet. “Nay!”

Ewan was in a state of shock. A man he’d trusted with his very life, with Mairin’s life, had betrayed them all in the cruelest fashion possible. It was also apparent that Ewan had never had a chance from the start. Archibald was in league with Duncan Cameron. What wasn’t clear was whether the king was also in league with Cameron, or whether Archibald boldly plotted against his cousin.

“My lord, please hear me,” Mairin pleaded. “ ’Tis not true. None of it is true! My husband is Laird McCabe!”

“Silence, woman!” Duncan roared. He backhanded her in reprimand and she fell into the chair she’d just risen from.

“She is distraught and clearly not thinking straight, my lord. Please forgive her impertinence. I will deal with her later.”

Ewan could not be contained. As soon as Cameron struck Mairin, Ewan went crazy. He exploded across the room, hitting Duncan in the chest. The two men went down as, once again, chaos reigned.

This time his brothers did nothing to stop him. They were fighting their own battle against the king’s guard. A battle they couldn’t hope to win. They were hugely outnumbered, more than a dozen to one. Without their swords, they were at an even greater disadvantage.

Ewan was hauled off Duncan and went to the floor under the weht of four soldiers. They pulled his arms back and pressed his face to the floor. Mairin flew to his side and knelt down, her hands reaching for him. Tears slid freely down her cheeks.

“Imprison Laird McCabe!” Archibald ordered. “And his men. Laird Cameron, take your wife and be gone from this hall.”

Duncan bent over and grabbed Mairin by the hair as he hauled her upward. She fought like a wildcat and Ewan roared his fury as he broke free and tried to attack Duncan again.

The soldiers grabbed him, holding him back even as he bucked and strained against them.

Mairin was being pulled away, her eyes filled with tears, her arms outstretched to Ewan.

“Mairin!” Ewan called hoarsely. “Listen to me. Survive. You survive! Endure. No matter what. Endure what you must but survive for me. Survive for our child. I will come for you. I swear it on my life. I will come for you!”

“I love you,” she said brokenly. “I will always love you.”

The hilt of a sword crashed down on his head. The pain blurred his vision and his head snapped to the side. As he slid toward the floor, blackness closing in around him, his last image was of Mairin being dragged, screaming, from the hall by Duncan Cameron.

“I love you, too,” he whispered.

CHAPTER 35

Mairin found herself thrust into Duncan Cameron’s chamber ahead of him. He barked orders to those around him as she stumbled toward the bed. When he neared the bed where she was sprawled, she hastily backed away, prepared to fend him off in whatever way necessary.

He sat on the edge of the bed, his expression calm as he surveyed her. One of the servants pressed a goblet into his hand and then Duncan waved them away. One by one, his men exited the chamber until he was alone with Mairin.

She edged up onto her elbow and inched backward to put more space between them.

He gave an exaggerated sigh of resignation. “I regret what transpired between us the first time we met. I realize my actions were reprehensible and my wooing skills are sorely lacking.”

Wooing skills? Reprehensible? His words swam through her muddled mind. Was he insane?

“Your actions now are reprehensible,” she said hoarsely. “You lied. One of Ewan’s own men lied and betrayed our clan. I can only assume at your instigation.”

“It would benefit you to make the best of your situation,” Duncan said, his voice carrying a hint of dark warning.

“Please,” she said, her voice breaking. She hated that she was reduced to begging before this man. But for Ewan, sh had no pride. There was nothing she wouldn’t do. “Let me return to Ewan. I am married to him truly.”

Duncan shrugged. “It matters not whether you are married to him or me. That is of little consequence as long as I receive your dowry and control of Neamh Álainn.” He transferred the goblet to the hand closest to Mairin and extended it in her direction. “Now here, drink this, dearling. ’Twill solve our immediate problem. I regret that it will cause you pain, but hopefully it won’t last overlong.”

She stared at the cup hovering close to her lips. She sniffed and recoiled from the bitter smell.

“What is it? Why will it cause me pain?” Did he think her daft?

He gave her a gentle smile that sent a cold shiver down her spine. “ ’Tis necessary to rid your body of the babe you carry. Don’t worry, I’ll give you sufficient time to heal before I make demands. I don’t want to wait overlong, though. ’Tis important that you carry my child as soon as possible.”

Terror hit her in the stomach. Nausea rose, billowed up into her chest until she gagged and had to turn away. She buried her face in the pillow.

“I’m sorry,” she muffled out. “ ’Twas not well done of me but I find myself ill at the oddest times ever since learning of the babe I carry.”

“ ’Tis the way of things,” Duncan offered generously. “When you carry my child, you’ll not lift a finger. You’ll be waited on hand and foot.”

Until you deliver. The words weren’t spoken but they hovered heavy in the air. Aye, she had no doubt she’d be treated like a queen until the day she bore the heir to Neamh Álainn.

He meant to kill her child. Ewan’s child. And replace it with his own seed. The mere thought had her gagging again, and she inhaled sharply through her nose to prevent vomiting all over the bed.

“Here, ’tis better to have it done with. Drink it down. I’ll summon the palace healer to help you through the worst of it. ’Tis said it can be very painful.”

He was so calm about it. How could he discuss murder with a tender smile? The man was a monster. A demon from hell.

“Why would you waste valuable time?” she choked out. She tried frantically to come up with a plan, something, anything to sway him from murder.

He frowned. “What mean you?”

“You seek to rid my womb of the child I carry when I am already nearly half done with the carrying. Losing a babe at this advanced stage can render a woman barren. ’Tis no guarantee I’ll become pregnant right away or at all. You’ve already claimed to all that the babe I carry is yours. If it matters not who I’m married to, why should it matter whose babe I carry? As long as I deliver a child, control of Neamh Álainn is yours. Why would you wait and risk my not becomg pregnant again?”

His frown deepened, as if he hadn’t considered such a possibility.

“I want my child to live,” she said softly. “Regardless of who it calls father. I’d do anything to protect him. In that regard you have the advantage, Laird.”

Duncan stood and paced restlessly in front of the bed. He stopped every once in awhile and eyed her as if trying to determine the truth of her words.

“ ’Tis often said a mother’s love knows no bounds. All right, Mairin Stuart. I agree to your terms. I’ll spare your child’s life, but from this day on you are mine. You’ll not fight me when I seek to avail myself of your body. You will never utter a single word to contradict the account I have given Lord Archibald. Are we understood?”

May God forgive me.

“I agree,” she choked out.

“Then be prepared to depart the castle. We leave in an hour’s time to return to Cameron land.”

“Ewan! Ewan! Wake up for God’s sake.”

Ewan found himself shaken roughly as he gained awareness of his surroundings. He cracked an eye open and glanced around only to find himself cloaked in darkness.

“Caelen?” he rasped.

“Thank God.”

The relief in Caelen’s voice was staggering.

“Mairin.”

The single word sent grief splintering through his head and chest. Bile rose in his throat at the knowledge that right now his wife was with her tormentor.

“Mairin,” he said again. “Where is she?”

The silence was oppressive. He heard his brothers’ breathing in the darkness, knew they dreaded the telling they must do.

“I’m sorry, Ewan. Duncan departed hours past, bearing Mairin with him,” Alaric said in a grim voice.

Ewan sat up, pain ripping through his head. His brothers caught his shoulders and guided him back down again when he nearly fell.

“Where are we?” he demanded.

“The king’s dungeon,” Caelen said, fury laced in each word. “The little bastard Archibald had us all tossed in here after his soldiers bashed you in the head.”

“Cormac and Gannon?”

“Here, Laird,” Gannon returned.

Ice filled Ewan’s veins as everything came back to him in a rush. “Diormid. Where is he now?”

“I’m not certain, Laird, but he’ll have gone from here. He knows any of us will kill him on sight. ’Tis possible he went with Cameron, since it looks that he was working with Cameron all along.”

“The attempts on my life. The arrow. The poison. It must have been him. He had orders from Cameron to kill me. When that didn’t work, he put his petition before the king.”

“I suspect he had the petition working even before Diormid’s attempts on your life,” Alaric said. “He had every angle covered from the start.”

“The question is, if David is involved in this along with Archibald or if Archibald acts alone with Cameron,” Caelen mused.

Ewan put his hands on the rough floor of the dungeon and pushed himself into a sitting position. “Archibald said that David was indisposed and castle rumor confirmed that the king is very ill. I wouldn’t be surprised if Archibald is behind that as well.”

“Are you all right, Ewan?” Alaric asked. “Does your head pain you overmuch?”

Ewan touched the side of his head, felt the warmth of blood, but it was thick and it no longer flowed freely. “I’ll be fine. What’s important is that Mairin not stay in Cameron’s grasp a minute longer than she has to.”

“I’ve sent a message to our men,” Caelen said. “ ’Tis my hope we hear from them soon.”

Ewan stared around the darkened dungeon. “How did you send a message to our men?”

“I might have threatened one of the guards who tossed us into the cell,” Caelen admitted. “I told him that unless he informed our men of our fate that I would spit him on my sword, castrate him, and feed his cods to the buzzards.”

Alaric chuckled. “The man couldn’t leave us fast enough to bear Caelen’s message to our men.”

“How long have we been down here?” Ewan asked as he rubbed more of the blood from the side of his head.

Caelen sighed. “Several hours. One of the guards who obviously feels ’tis best to remain on my good side informed me of Cameron’s departure a few hours past.”

“Son of a bitch,” Ewan swore. “I can’t believe that bastard allowed Mairin to fall into Cameron’s hands. This was all a setup from the beginning. Archibald never had any intention of presenting this matter before David, and he damn sure never had any intention of listening to Mairin or to me. Diormid’s testimony just gave him the sway of public opinion so that when he rendered his judgment, there was no backlash from the other lairds who might have thought he intervened unfairly.”

“I’m sorry, Laird,” Cormac said, devastation in every word. “I should have seen it. I spent every day in Diormid’s company. I fought with him. Ate with him. We trained together. We were as brothers. I would have never dreamed he would betray us.”

“ ’Tis just as much my fault as anyone’s,” Ewan said bleakly. “I trusted him with Mairin’s safety many times.”

Ewan rubbed his hand tiredly over his face and tried to put the memory of Cameron’s hands on Mairin out of his mind. He couldn’t imagine Cameron hurting Mairin because it would drive him insane. The only way to survive this was to turn it off. Turn off his emotions. Turn off the images flashing through his mind with torturous precision.

“Cameron will expect a full-scale attack on his holding,” Caelen pointed out. “He’ll know that Archibald cannot hold us in the king’s dungeon forever, and he knows you’ll come for Mairin. He’ll know it and expect it, so he’ll be prepared.”

“I can’t risk Mairin’s safety by attacking his keep with the might of my entire army. If she was not in residence, I’d give him the fight he expects and not give a damn that he expects it. I’d swarm over his lands like the plague and decimate everything in our path. But I won’t take the risk that Mairin would be caught up in the battle. And if Duncan knew all was lost, he’d kill her out of spite.”

Prev Next