One year later…
“Should we just come in? Or should we have planned some sort of a surprise first?” Blair asked, looking out of the window of the carriage, Ada next to him.
She squeezed his hand. “I think our arrival will be surprise enough! It has been far too long since I have seen me family. Writin’ them letters was nae enough for me.” Ada leaned against his shoulder, and Blair leaned over to kiss her head and breathe in her scent.
She was his Ada, forever and ever. Even after one year of marriage and glorious travel around much of Europe, it still didn’t seem real.
“Ye dinnae regret it, dae ye, all that we have done and all that we have seen?”
“Nay, nae at all! It was everythin’ tae me!” She lifted up her head and touched his cheek to turn his face towards hers. “Never think that I have regretted it. It is only that Ella now has children, and I have never seen the babies! It is time. And she says that Father is gettin’ tired. She worries for him.”
“Aye, the troubles with the English abound it seems.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, remembering the letter he’d received from Laird MacPherson a few weeks before, asking for their return.
I would like ye tae take over the clan, Blair. I ken that ye feel ye have a duty tae Cameron, but now that ye are like a son, I would wish ye tae take a son’s place as laird. And then yer son will be the heir tae the MacPherson Clan.
He had not told Ada, fearful that she would not wish for that, fearful that she would get upset about her father attempting to force them back to her old prison again. But he hoped that age had mellowed out the older man and that the distance from his one daughter had done so as well. Perhaps she would be keen to stay and live in her old home and to have Blair take over the clan while her father took his retirement.
“It is all so lovely,” Ada sighed. “I am glad we came before the cold, but I can feel it coming. Despite the beautiful, sunny places we’ve seen in France and Italy, I confess that I have missed the cold air of Scotland. The way it bites at ye,” she chuckled, “it makes ye feel alive.”
He chuckled with her. “Aye, what a description. Quite right. And it makes one keen tae get close under the covers at night,” he added jokingly.
She pushed against him. “Ever the seducer, me husband.”
“Aye, of course.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “What man would have a bonny wife like mine and nae always be thinkin’ about ways tae seduce her and get her intae his bed?” His eyes widened. “Ye dinnae think yer father will try tae keep us away from one another again as punishment for bein’ away for so long?”
She burst into laughter and shook her head. “Surely nae. We are married this one year! And he would have tae fight against me if he wished tae dae somethin’ as nonsensical as that.”
He could see Grant Castle approaching through the window. He drew Ada in closer. He was excited to see his old friend and in-laws again, but he was also a little nervous. He hoped that a year had passed and that he had changed for the better. They’d left so soon after their wedding that no one had seen them as husband and wife. He was concerned that they would find him unsuitable as a husband in some way.
He shook his head. Despite Finley’s absence and his need for vengeance, Blair still struggled with himself and believing in his own worth. The darkness had weighed heavily on him for a long time, and the guilt he felt for killing those men had burned a hole inside of him. Ada’s love had healed him so much that he felt better all the time. He was still worried that he was not good enough for her. He was worried about being good enough for Laird MacPherson’s plan for him to take over the clan.
“Here we are!” Ada said excitedly as the carriage slowed.
He couldn’t help but smile at his wife’s happiness. The door opened, and he jumped out first so that he could help her down. He pulled her into his arms so that her back was against his chest, and resting his chin on her head, they looked at Grant Castle.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Aye, I cannae wait!” She wriggled free and walked towards the gates. When they opened, Ella, Cameron, and two young children who looked exactly alike rushed out.
Ada screamed with delight, running towards her sister while Blair laughed, walking up to Cameron.
“Blair!” Cameron cried, pulling him into a warm, brotherly embrace. “God, it is good tae see ye.” When he pulled away, he squeezed Blair’s shoulders. “Ye look well, brother.”
“I feel well,” he said, only partially truthful. “Ye look well too.”
Cameron had grown in maturity in the last year as if much more time had passed. More lines were fanning out from the corners of his eyes, and his smile lines were also deeper grooves. He was happy, and that made Blair happy.
“We did nae ken when exactly ye were comin’. I swear, Ella has been waitin’ at the window for the past month, hopin’ that day would be the day.” He hugged Blair again. “Come, meet me bairns.”
“Blair,” Ella said, hugging him and kissing him on the cheek before she reached for Ada again. “We’ve missed ye both so much.”
Her eyes were moist with tears. “We’ve missed ye,” Ada replied with equal emotion.
“These are the twins,” Ella said proudly, grasping at them as they clung to her skirts, almost not able to stand straight. “Danny and David,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.
Danny was toddling next to his older brother, and Ada reached down to scoop them both up in a hug. “What a pleasure tae meet ye all. I am yer Aunt Ada, and this is yer Uncle Blair.”
Blair smiled at the children. The boys were identical to their father. He knelt in front of them.
“Greetings tae ye, lads. Has yer father let ye hold a sword yet?”
They shook their heads at the same time.
“Well, perhaps I should be the one tae show ye.” He grinned, winking at Cameron, who shook his head.
“Ye are goin’ tae kill Ella, Blair.”
“Greetings!” A familiar voice called from the doorway. Both Blair and Ada looked up, and they saw Laird MacPherson coming out of the gates to meet them. “I was wonderin’ when ye’d arrive after me letter, Blair.”
Blair groaned inwardly when he heard Ada say, “Letter?”
He turned to his wife, the woman he’d sworn never to keep secrets from any longer.
“Aye. Yer father has sent me a letter,” he said, just as the laird came to hug Ada and shake Blair’s hand.
“I want Blair tae take over the clan.”
Ada knew perhaps it wasn’t very fair, but she was angry at her husband. Once they were all settled inside and Ella and Cameron were off speaking to the servants about meals and preparations, Ada looked between her father and Blair.
“When were ye goin’ tae tell me?” she asked, and he had the decency to look abashed.
“Here and now,” he said. “I did nae want tae worry ye.”
“Ada, come now,” her father admonished in his usual tone.
She tried her best not to wince at it. It had been three years since she’d last seen him, and she’d been afraid of seeing him again. They had made up before the wedding, but he was still the same man. Would he attempt to try to scold her as always? Would he even attempt to imprison her in his old ways?
“What is so terrible about this idea? Blair would make a wonderful laird, would he nae?” Ada’s eyes dragged to her husband.
She couldn’t help but smile a little. Blair had grown in maturity, wisdom, and good looks. Their time abroad had made his skin more golden, and it brought out the lines around his eyes. He’d laughed and smiled more than he ever had since she’d first known him. Her heart swelled with love for this man, and she knew she could not be angry at him for long. But the fact that he’d kept such a big secret from her hurt her. It made her afraid, made her remember the feeling of the past when he’d tried to keep her out of the situation with Finley.
Occasionally, despite all his actions to the contrary, she worried that he would run away again.
“Of course, he would. I only wish that he had told me. I could have talked about it with him instead of havin’ it sprung upon me without notice.”
Blair nodded, and he reached across the table for her hand. “I ken, lass. I am sorry about that.”
“Well, what did ye decide?”
He shook his head. “I have nae. I was waitin’ tae tell ye and talk about it with ye.”
“But of course, there is only one option,” her father said.
She narrowed her gaze at him. “Father, ye must let us make our own decision.” She softened a little, attempting to avoid the old tension which had seeped into her muscles. “But I thank ye for thinkin’ of us. Are ye unwell? Ella has written tae me about a few things.”
“Has she?” He chuckled. “Aye, I am nae so spry as I once was, and I think I am tired of rulin’ from an empty castle. Ye should go and fill it with yer own family.” He lifted a brow. “I wonder why ye dinnae have any bairns of yer own.”
Ada blushed. “Father, it is nae a question one asks.”
This time, Blair spoke. “We wanted the freedom tae travel, me laird. But now, perhaps if we choose yer solution, we can have a place tae settle.”
His soft eyes looked into hers, and she smiled. It had been so beautiful to travel and see the world. Ada had experienced a wonderful freedom that she’d never thought possible. She’d seen things so many in the Highlands had never and would never see. But the idea of returning home after so long away did appeal to her. It would be nice to sit in one’s own chair in front of one’s own fire.
“Here we are,” Ella said, returning to the hall on Cameron’s arm. “The children are settled, and the meal will be served shortly.”
Ada turned her mind away from the issue at hand, and they ate pleasantly as a family, Ella filling them all in on the latest goings-on of the village, Cameron’s ruling, as well as how the children fared. Ada smiled and laughed, and with each breath, she was grateful she’d been able to return to her family. She was tired and ready for bed when it was all over, and Ella met her at the base of the stairs before she went up.
Ella looked back at the men who were deep in conversation about something. “What will ye dae, Ada? Ye ken that I would love tae have ye close by, but ye must dae what is in yer heart. Ye would be welcome here as well, for Blair tae serve as Cam’s man-at-arms as planned. Dinnae let Father push ye intae it.”
“I will nae,” Ada said sharply and then looked up at her sister. “I’m sorry. I spent a long while thinkin’ about what it would be like tae be around Father again. I’ve been very nervous, plannin’ out what I might say tae him. He seems more subdued, of course,” she said, stealing a glance at him. “But I can tell he still wants me tae dae as he asks. I just worry that he will lord over me while we live in MacPherson Castle. That, I could nae abide.”
Ella lifted her chin. “Then ye will simply tell him what tae dae. Ye will be the lady of the castle if Blair chooses the lairdship. Ye are both a grown, and a married woman. Ye dinnae need him tae tell ye what ye must dae.”
“Thank ye, Ella. But I think that ye should also have him come and visit ye very often.”
Ella chuckled, just as her children came rushing into the entranceway, their nanny not far behind.
“And a good night tae ye all,” Ada cried, leaning down to squeeze and kiss them. When she rose, she touched Ella’s arm. “I am so sorry that I missed their birth. But I am here now. I want tae get tae ken them. I feel like I dae from all yer letters about them.”
Ella beamed. “Aye I was tryin’ tae keep ye well-informed. But I’m glad ye will nae go away anytime soon. I missed ye terribly all this time, but I was so happy that ye got tae have the freedom ye deserved.”
Smiling, Ada hugged her. “Aye, so am I.”
She felt Blair’s touch on her back, and she pulled away. “Ready?” he asked.
“Aye, I am so fatigued, I can barely stand up.”
“Go and rest!” Ella said, waving them both away. “A bath has been put in yer room for ye both.”
They wished her family good night, and Blair kept his hand on her back as they found their way to their room. Once inside, Ada was warmed by the fire and the sight of a steaming bath in front of it.
“How lovely,” she said, and Blair came behind her.
“I am glad they ken we wish tae bathe together. Let me help ye,” he said, slowly unbuttoning her bodice, untying her stays and helping her out of her clothing until she was fully naked.
When she turned around, he smiled and shook his head as he took her in. “Ye are perfect, Ada. I still lose me breath every time I look at ye.”
“And ye,” she said, helping him out of his jacket and shirt.
When he was fully bare, they walked to the tub and slipped inside. He pulled her against him, and she closed her eyes.
“I am sorry, Ada. Will ye forgive me?” he asked before he kissed her temple.
“Aye, of course. What would ye like tae dae?”
He traced a finger along her arm. “I dinnae ken. I fear that ye may nae like tae return tae yer home, lass, with yer father.”
“Aye, but Ella says that I must simply tell him his place.”
“So ye should.” He chuckled, and she felt the hum against her back. “He would listen tae ye now. There is nothin’ holdin’ ye back any longer.”
She nodded. “Aye, but what dae ye want? Dae ye want tae be laird?”
He hesitated for a moment. “Perhaps ye think me foolish, but I still think of how I took the lives of those men when I was young. I have taken other lives, of course, but those stick with me. I fear there is a darkness in me that could still come out and that I am unworthy.”
She pulled his arms tighter around her. “That is what makes ye the best laird. Ye dinnae already think yerself a gift tae mankind. Ye would have the humility tae help those in need and tae keep yer people strong.”
He didn’t say anything else, and they finished bathing. Once out of the water, Blair took a towel and wrapped it around her.
“I am only better with ye at me side.” He kissed her. “Would ye be willin’ tae be a laird’s wife?”
“Aye, of course,” she said. “I would dae anythin’ for ye. And if ye need further help in bein’ humble, I would be happy tae assist.”
Laughing, he drew her closer and pressed a kiss to the base of her neck.
“Blair,” Ada said softly, wondering what reaction she’d get.
“Hmm?” he asked, still holding her.
“Seein’ the children today has reminded me. We have put it off for so long. I ken that we have nae had children because of our travels. But now…” She pulled out his arms and looked at him. “Would ye like one of yer own?”
She feared that he would turn away or make her feel a fool. But instead, he put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her.
“Aye, lass, that would make me very happy.”
Grinning, she jumped into his arms, and he spun her about, their towels dropping to the floor in their haste. When he slowed, his hands caressed down her back and grasped her buttocks.
“Well,” he said in a low voice that never failed to send tingles down her spine, “shall we begin right now?”
“Aye, laird,” she teased. “That would make me very happy.”
Blair scooped her into his arms and carried her to the bed, smiling the whole time. It was a new chapter, and she was fearful of many things. But, for the time being, Ada had more pleasant ones on her mind.
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