Beauty and the Beastly Highlander – Extended Epilogue
Even though it had been over a year since Mairi’s betrayal, Lochlan was still avoiding everyone at the castle. He reminded Finley of himself, of how he had been before he had met Etna, and it broke his heart to know that Mairi had broken something in his brother that he would never be able to get back.
Even though Lochlan hadn’t lost all of his cheer, Finley knew that much of it was nothing but a façade. He spoke little those days, talking mainly when someone else started a conversation with him, and even then, it was difficult to keep him talking for long. Everyone could see the change in him, and no one knew what to do about it.
The one thing that Finley had found that worked was training with him. It seemed as though his brother had so much anger inside him that the only way to release it was through exercise, and besides, training did them both a lot of good. Finley had regained his stamina and strength after the years he had spent neglecting both, and Lochlan was working out his frustrations.
That day, the two were at the training grounds alone, each equipped with a dull sword. They had been fighting for hours, going again and again and stopping only when they needed time to rest, their lungs and muscles protesting under strain.
Finley looked at Lochlan, waiting for him to attack. But where Lochlan had once been the first to start a fight, now he waited patiently, perhaps curious to see if Finley would finally make a move.
But his anger still showed. Finley knew it wasn’t directed at him, and that gave him some comfort, but he also knew that he wouldn’t be patient for long.
He was proven right. Lochlan soon attacked him, dealing blow after blow with his sword. Finley struggled to parry them all, moving backward and trying to put some distance between them so that he could laugh a counterattack. When he found an opening, he swung his sword, but Lochlan quickly avoided the dull blade, jumping to the side.
Finley attacked Lochlan with a roar, doing the same thing to him as before, not giving him a chance to fight back. But Lochlan, in his frustration, shot out with his leg, kicking Finley in the stomach and sending him tumbling on the ground.
Within moments, Lochlan’s sword fell from his hand, and he looked at Finley with wide eyes, as though he couldn’t believe that he had actually taken it that far.
“Dinna fash yerself,” Finley said, sitting up and dusting his hands. Lochlan offered him a hand, and Finley took it, standing back onto his feet.
“Did I hurt ye?” Lochlan asked him, sounding so guilty that Finley had half a mind to pull him into a hug and comfort him like he did when they were kids. But Lochlan was skittish those days. He didn’t like people touching him. So instead, Finley just smiled at him.
“Do ye really think that was enough to hurt me?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood. “I’m fine, Lochlan. Truly. As I said, dinna fash yerself.”
But Lochlan didn’t reply. He walked to the nearest bench, throwing himself onto it and burying his face in his hands. With a sigh, Finley joined him, and this time, he did place a hand on his brother’s shoulder, only to have him flinch.
But at least Lochlan didn’t pull back or try to shove his hand away. It was some progress, at least, no matter how small.
“Lochlan, the more ye keep inside, the worse ye’ll feel,” Finley pointed out. “Do ye na wish to speak with me?”
Lochlan scoffed, shaking his head. “Says ye. Ye spent so many years hidden away from the world, but noo ye judge me for what I’m doin’? I thought that if anyone understood, it would be ye.”
“I do understand,” Finley assured him. In fact, he supposed he understood better than anyone. “It’s because I’ve been through the same thing as ye that I ask ye to speak about it, to me at least. Ye dinna have to talk to anyone else. Ye dinna have to answer grandmaither’s questions.”
Arlene had been understanding, and she had given Lochlan his space, but she was getting restless. Now that she had Finley back, she was afraid of losing Lochlan, and Finley could hardly blame her.
He was afraid of the same thing.
“I dinna ken what to tell ye, Finley,” Lochlan said. “I understand ye noo. I understand why ye did everythin’ that ye did.”
“Ye’re na like me,” Finley pointed out. “Ye’re far from bein’ in that state.”
“Na . . . na, I’m na,” Lochlan said. “I’m only hidin’ it better than ye did. All I wish to do is crawl into me chambers and never face another human again.”
“Dinna say that,” Finley said. “That woman is gone, and she doesna deserve yer love or anythin’ else.”
Lochlan didn’t reply, but Finley could tell that he was contemplating his words. But they had spoken about Mairi for long enough. Finley didn’t want to bring her up more than he needed to. He would rather have Lochlan thinking about other things.
And besides, there was something that they still hadn’t discussed, even though it had been such a long time since then.
Finley had been plunged in so much shame over what he had done to Lochlan that he could hardly force himself to bring the entire thing up. He had treated him horribly. He had believed him to be the traitor, and he had hurt him so much that he couldn’t understand how Lochlan didn’t hate him, too.
“Lochlan . . . for what I did back then, I’m sorry.”
The words were sour in Finley’s mouth, the knot in his throat impossible to swallow. He had spent many sleepless nights thinking about how he could possibly make it up to Lochlan, but he never quite seemed to find the right thing to do or say.
Lochlan sighed, shaking his head. “Why are ye apologisin’?” he asked. “It was me fault, Finley. I was the one who gave Mairi all the information that she needed to pass to the brigands. I’m the one who caused all those deaths because of me own foolishness. If I had been smarter if I had figured her out . . . I dinna ken. Many of those men would still be alive today. I’m the one who should be apologisin’ to ye and to everyone else.”
“Ye seem to forget that I fell for the same lies,” Finley reminded him. “Ye never once blamed me for believin’ Anna, so why do ye blame yerself for believin’ Mairi? How could ye have kent what she was doin’? Ye were in love, and she fooled us all, na just ye. I would have never suspected her. Na one else would have.”
“It doesna make it any better,” Lochlan insisted. “It doesna matter. What’s done is done, and I canna change it na matter how much I want to. I wish that there would be somethin’ I could do, but those men are gone, and so is she. I canna . . . I canna ask her how she could do it.”
“She was a bad person, Lochlan,” Finley said simply, giving his brother a small shrug. “But just because ye trusted her and she turned out to be a bad person, it doesna mean that ye shouldna trust anyone else again. I made that mistake once. I dinna want ye to make the same one.”
“It’s easy for ye to say, Finley,” Lochlan said. “Ye have Etna. Ye found someone worth trustin’. Me . . . I dinna ken if I’ll ever find anyone else. I dinna ken if I want to.”
With that, Lochlan stood and grabbed the sword that he had discarded on the ground, putting it in its proper place before walking away. Finley watched him, wishing that he was better with words, more convincing.
Perhaps Etna should speak to him. She got through to me once. Maybe she can get through to him, too.
Finley stood, as well, making his way back inside the castle. It didn’t take him long to find Etna and Malina, along with the new addition to their family, all of them sitting in the library as Etna read to the two children,
When she had given birth to their son, Finley had remembered just how happy Malina’s birth had made him. And now, seeing them all three together made him happy again and put a smile on his face. He didn’t think he would ever get used to the sight. He didn’t think that excitement would ever fade.
“Dadaidh!” Malina shouted, waving him over. Finley joined her obediently, always happy to do her bidding. He picked her up and placed her in his lap, Etna watching them with a smile even as she kept reading.
The four of them stayed there until it was time for supper. After eating and putting the little ones to sleep—something that Etna refused to leave to the governess—she joined him in their chambers, kissing him as she lied down next to him.
But then she pulled back, looking at him with a frown. It was a look that always forced Finley to tell her the truth sooner or later, so he had learned to not fight it anymore.
“What is it?” she asked. “Did somethin’ happen?”
Etna had always been perceptive, and after the time they had spent together, she could always tell when something was wrong with Finley. There was no hiding from her, but then again, he didn’t want to hide, not anymore.
“It’s Lochlan,” he said. “I was with him all mornin’ and afternoon’, but he barely talks to me. I dinna ken what to do, Etna. I dinna ken how to make it better.”
“There are some things that ye canna make better, and ye’ll have to accept that,” Etna told him, laying a gentle hand on his arm. “All ye can do is be there for him when he needs ye. Perhaps he doesna need to talk. Perhaps he needs somethin’ else entirely.”
“Dinna ye always say that I should talk to ye about what bothers me?” Finley asked. “Why should it be different for him? I’m his brother. He should be able to tell me everythin’.”
“Weel . . . ye were hidin’ away from the world for years. Lochlan hasna reached the same state as ye had. He’s withdrawn, that much is certain, but he doesna dwell in the shadows of the castle, orderin’ people to stop smilin’.”
The reminder made Finley wince. He really had been unreasonable, and he didn’t know why his people had put up with him. Especially his family, who should have slapped some sense into him much sooner.
“What I mean is, he’s still with us,” Etna said. “Ye dinna have to worry about him turnin’ into ye. Perhaps it will take a long time for him to heal, but he will. Ye only have to be patient.”
Finley supposed that Etna was right. The only thing that he could really do was wait for Lochlan to speak to him when he felt ready. But as things were, he felt so useless. He felt as though he had failed his little brother. It had always been his duty to protect him and knowing that he couldn’t do that anymore left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Do ye think ye could speak with him?” Finley asked her. “I ken that ye think we should wait, but perhaps he’ll listen to ye more than he listens to me.”
Etna hesitated, but in the end, she nodded, perhaps because she could sense his anguish. “I can try,” she said. “If it will make ye feel better, I can certainly try.”
“Thank ye, mo ghràdh,” Finley said. “How am I so lucky as to have a lass like ye?”
“Och, I dinna ken. I often ask meself the same thing,” Etna teased. But then she kissed him, showing just how much she still wanted him, how much she loved him and yearned for him. Finley knew because she felt the same for her, his body and soul reaching out for her with everything he had.
He couldn’t imagine what his life would be if his grandmother hadn’t called Etna to the castle. And before he had met her, he certainly couldn’t have imagined that he would have such a beautiful life with her and their two children.
“Ye ken . . . I always wanted a big family,” Finley said, grinning at Etna as he pulled her closer by the hip. She was so warm and soft against him, supple and inviting, and he couldn’t resist. He always wanted her. It was as though she had turned him into a teenager, always ready to go. “Perhaps it’s time—”
“I’ll stop ye right there,” Etna said, pressing a finger against Finley’s lips to shush him. “Ye willna put another bairn in me any time soon. One pregnancy was enough for noo. Talk to me again about it in a few years.”
“But ye’re so, so bonnie, Etna,” Finley said, his lips finding her neck, kissing and nibbling on her skin. “How could I ever resist ye?”
Etna laughed, slapping his shoulder playfully. “I’m na tellin’ ye to resist me. I’m tellin’ ye to be careful.”
Etna kissed him, but as she did, a yawn erupted from her, pulling her away from him. She did seem exhausted, and Finley knew the reason. Between tutoring Malina and raising a newborn, Etna always had her hands busy. Finley had told her multiple times that she had a perfectly good woman to help her, the governess that had taken care of other children in the clan, too, but Etna wasn’t having it. She always talked about how she loved children and brought her joy to raise the two they had.
Resting his head next to her own on the pillow, Finley kissed her cheek and then her forehead. Etna sighed contently against him, and he could feel her smile on his chest. “Go to sleep, mo ghràdh,” he told her. “We’ll have plenty of time for another bairn when ye’re na so tired.”
Etna mumbled something that Finley didn’t quite catch, but he didn’t ask her to repeat it. Soon, her breathing evened out, and he knew that she was peacefully asleep.
Being in her arms had always helped Finley sleep, too. He had spent years staying up at night, sleep evading him every single night, but now, he usually slept like a baby, Etna drawing out every last bit of stress that he held onto and making it melt away.
He loved her for it. He loved her for many reasons.
And now that he had her as her own, he would never let her go.
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