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Chosen by a Highland Beast – Extended Epilogue

 

Even a character, a scene, or anything. You could say no if nothing bothered you.
Even a character, a scene, or anything that you enjoyed.

One month later…

Cathleen stared at her reflection in the looking glass. For the second time in the span of only a few weeks, she was dressed in fine fabrics and jewels, gold and precious stones adorning her neck and wrists. Her dress was a deep blue, not unlike the last one she had worn.

There really was only one thing that made a difference—this time, she couldn’t stop smiling at the thought that she would soon be marrying Macauley. The only tears she had shed since waking up that morning were tears of joy.

“Ye look very bonnie, me lady,” Morven said from where she stood behind her. Next to her, Bonnie was beaming with pride, her eyes misty with happy tears.

“She truly does,” Bonnie said as she stepped forward to help the maids with Cathleen’s hair, braiding it like she used to do when they were young girls. “I think it’s because she’s so happy.”

Cathleen couldn’t deny that. Though she was nervous, her heart beating fast and her chest seizing with every breath, her joy was as undeniable as it was all-consuming.

All this time, she hadn’t allowed herself to hope for a future with Macauley. At first, she had lost herself in the romance of it all, but then with everything Faolan had done, she had resigned to a life without Macauley, with nothing but the memory of him and their time together to help her keep going forward. Now, though, that future was entirely real and it was hers. There was no one to threaten the clan. There was no one to tear the two of them apart.

“Dae ye think Macauley will like it?” Cathleen asked. She wanted to look good for him. She wanted him to have no other thought in his mind other than their wedding night upon seeing her.

“I think he will love it,” Bonnie said. “He loves ye so, ye could show up tae the chapel in armor an’ he would still like it. Perhaps he’d even like the armor more.”

Cathleen couldn’t help but chuckle. If there was one thing that never failed to impress Macauley, it was that she knew her way around a blade and was not afraid to use it, but she wouldn’t go as far as to claim that he would prefer her in armor over these silky fabrics.

Bonnie and the maids pinned her hair back in an intricate updo before securing the veil over her face. Then, they led her to the door and out of the room, the two sisters heading to the chapel.

Cathleen knew Castle MacLaren like the back of her hand, and so even veiled as she was, she could easily maneuver around the corridors. Her gait was fast, her feet eager to take her to the chapel, where she would see Macauley again after being separated from him for an entire day before the wedding.

It was a bright, though chilly day, the wind whipping her dress and threatening to sweep her hair out of the delicate updo the maids and Bonnie had taken so much time and care to construct. Around her, the birds chirped and the leaves rustled in the wind, but she heard none of it.

Her heart leapt to her throat when she and Bonnie stood right outside the chapel a few minutes later, her sister waiting for her to take the step inside. Cathleen looked at the doors of the little church, her palms sweating and her stomach filled with butterflies, and it was only when Bonnie gave her a gentle push that she finally found the courage to walk inside.

All eyes turned on her instantly. Everyone from Clans Drummond, Hay, and Murray seemed to be there, some familiar faces for Cathleen and some she had only heard of until then. Kian and Deirdre were there, of course, Deirdre smiling at her as she wiped the tears off her eyes before they could truly shed.

Macauley stood by the priest’s side, freezing on the spot when his gaze fell on her, his mouth hanging open. His hand flew to his chest as though he was trying to calm his racing heart, and Cathleen was glad to know she wasn’t the only one so affected by what was happening. Slowly, she approached, and when she reached Macauley, he tentatively touched his fingers to hers, not quite taking her hand.

He couldn’t see her through the veil and she had a hard time seeing him, obscured as he was by the fabric. Still, there was no mistaking the smile on his lips or the love in his gaze, which never strayed from her.

The ceremony began but Cathleen listened to little of it over the sound of her heartbeat and the blood rushing to her ears. It all seemed to pass by in a blur, so fast that by the time she stood outside next to Macauley as the priest brought the rite o an end, she didn’t even know it had all come to pass and the two of them were married. Suddenly, everyone was congratulating her, wishing her and Macauley the best before heading back inside for the feast.

The great hall had been decorated with fresh flowers and tapestries and banners, the council sparing no expense for her wedding. It wasn’t just a matter of pleasing her, though, Cathleen knew, though that was certainly a part of it after everything that had happened with Faolan. It was also a matter of showing the other clans that they still had power and wealth, and that with Macauley as the new laird, there would be an era of prosperity.

The tables were piled with food and drink, platters of roasted meat and vegetables, bannocks, cheeses, and fruit resting atop them along with pitchers of wine and ale, all of it prepared for the grand feast. A band was already posted up in the corner of the room and they began to play as the first guests arrived, clansmen and women filling up the tables.

Macauley and Cathleen didn’t even have time to sit before Deirdre found them. “Come!” she said excitedly. “Macauley, ye will never guess who just arrived.”

With a small frown, Macauley turned to Cathleen, shrugging at her curious expression, before he took her hand and the two of them followed Deirdre around the room. Just as they reached the doors of the great hall, his expression shifted into one of recognition when he saw who was there, but Cathleen was still none the wiser.

“Tate!” Lana!” he called, rushing to meet the two new arrivals and tugging Cathleen along with him. “Ye made it, I thought ye couldnae come.”

“Well, so did we, but we couldnae miss it in the end,” said the man Macauley had identified as Tate. He was a big man, tall and muscular, with bright features—blonde hair and icy blue eyes that made him look cold until he smiled. The woman next to him, Lana, was strikingly beautiful, with fiery red hair and hazel eyes, small save for the belly that bulged under her clothes.

“Cathleen, these are Tate an’ Lana Hay,” Macauley said. “Tate’s a good friend. He lived with us in Castle Drummond fer… how many years exactly?”

“Too many tae count,” said Tate. “But we will visit again once Lana has the bairn.”

Cathleen looked between her and Deirdre, noting the similarities in their features and the way they held themselves, and gasped, her hand coming up to cover her mouth. “Ye’re Deirdre’s sister!”

“I am,” said Lana with a small smile and a tilt of her head. “Has she spoken about me?”

“Often,” said Cathleen, nodding enthusiastically. “I thought ye wouldnae manage tae come. It must be difficult fer ye tae travel now.”

For the first time, she imagined what it would be like when she would be pregnant with her and Macauley’s children. Would Macauley want a big family? Cathleen had never had anyone but her sister, but they and their parents were so close that she never felt she needed anyone else.

“Och aye,” said Lana. She had a soft, melodious voice and a warm smile that was very much unlike the kind of woman she had expected to see after Deirdre’s descriptions of her. Then again, Deirdre had mentioned that Lana looked deceptively meek, to the point where people thought of her as a fool until she showed her fangs. “But we wanted tae be here fer Macauley. An’ fer ye, o’ course. Welcome tae the family, Cathleen. I’m sure we’ll be great friends if ye can be around me sister.”

“Lana!” Deirdre protested, giving her shoulder a push with barely any force behind the gesture.

Cathleen laughed, shaking her head. “Deirdre is an angel. Truly.”

She still couldn’t believe how much Deirdre had helped her, how kindly she had treated her. Anyone else would have asked for Cathleen to hang, but Deirdre only wanted to make sure that she was safe and happy.

Suddenly, Kian appeared next to them and Macauley paled as he saw him, swallowing drily. Cathleen had never seen such terror in his eyes, especially not when Kian approached him, and she couldn’t help but stare in confusion.

“What is it?” she asked in a low voice, only for Macauley to shake his head fervently.

“Ye have been avoidin’ me,” Kian said, striding menacingly towards Macauley. Had they fought, Cathleen wondered? But no, it couldn’t be. Just at the ceremony, they seemed fine. “Did ye think ye could get away from me fer the whole feast?”

“I wasnae avoidin’ ye,” Macauley said quickly, taking a few steps back. “I simply… had to greet Tate an’ Lana.”

Kian hummed, seemingly not believing Macauley’s words. Something rattled in his hand and Cathleen looked down to see a pair of cuffs there, heavy iron joined by a long chain.

“We had a bet, Macauley,” Kian said. “I ken ye havenae forgotten.”

“A bet?” Cathleen asked. “What kind o’ bet?”

“It’s silly,” said Macauley.

“A very important bet,” said Kian at the same time.

“Ach, nae this!” Deirdre said, throwing her hands up in the air in exasperation. “I thought ye would have forgotten about this foolishness.”

“A bet is a bet, Deirdre,” Kian said. “An’ Macauley took the bet.”

It was then that Macauley seemed to relent, sighing as he presented his wrists to Kian. Kian was almost gleeful as he snapped the cuffs around Macauley’s wrists, binding his hands together.

“These stay fer the rest o’ the night,” Kian said. “I’ll remove them in the morn.”

“What?” Macauley shouted, indignant. “How dae ye expect me tae… tae dae me duty with these on?”

For a few moments, Kian regarded him, then he turned his gaze on Cathleen. “Ye may yet enjoy them,” he said, and turned on his heel, walking away.

Cathleen’s cheeks heated wildly at the implication. With a weary sigh, Deirdre followed her husband as Lana and Tate rushed after them, leaving Macauley and Cathleen alone. She looked pointedly at the cuffs and to his credit, Macauley blushed, a wash of color spreading over his cheeks.

“I made a bet with him that I would never wed,” he mumbled. “I have tae wear these cuffs.”

For a few moments, Cathleen looked at him in disbelief, before she burst out laughing. It was such a silly thing but Macauley seemed incensed about it, fuming with anger and embarrassment.

“Well, perhaps he’s right,” Cathleen said, leaning close to whisper in Macauley’s ear. “Perhaps ye will come tae enjoy them.”

She, too, turned around to walk away, smirking as she left a bewildered and undoubtedly aroused Macauley behind her.

The rest of the feast was spent with Cathleen and Macauley pulled in different directions, each of them dragged away to talk to people they already knew and meet those they didn’t. It was only later in the evening when they managed to find their way back to their table, but the moment Cathleen sat down, the Toiseach stood and raised his cup in a toast.

“Tae Macauley Sinclair, new Laird o’ Clan MacLaren, an’ his wife, the Lady MacLaren,” he said, announcing Macauley’s new role officially to the guests, who raised their own cups and echoed his toast. Cathleen didn’t miss the way the Toiseach stared at his bound hands in disapproval, though the man had said nothing all night about it.

Next to Macauley, Kian grinned and gave him an encouraging slap on the shoulder. Cathleen watched it all—Macauley’s small, bashful smile, Kian’s and Deirdre’s pride for their friend, the joy that erupted in the room, and she couldn’t help but think she was the luckiest woman in the world that day.

Now that they had greeted everyone in the room, Macauley and Cathleen could finally enjoy the feast, but it wasn’t long after that Macauley took her hand and subtly pulled her away through the back door of the great hall. By then, everyone was either too intoxicated to notice or too focused in their own conversations or dance to see them slip out. Cathleen followed him hurriedly, a giggle bubbling up inside her, until they reached a secluded corner of the castle in one of the more deserted hallways. The moment Macauley knew they were alone, he pushed her against the wall and claimed her lips in a searing kiss, Cathleen arching up to meet him.

“I couldnae wait tae get ye out o’ there,” he said, mumbling against her neck as he kissed the heated skin there. “I’ve been thinkin’ about ye all day. I was thinkin’ about ye all day yesterday, too. I cannae spend another moment away from ye.”

Cathleen laughed at the frenzied way Macauley’s hands pawed at her, as though he would truly explode if he didn’t touch her right that instant. The chains rattled between them and she had half a mind to grab them right there and then, just to see what he would do. Still, Cathleen ran a soothing hand over his shoulder and cupped his cheek, stilling him for a second. Before anything else, she had to say this.

“I love ye,” she whispered against his lips, brushing her own softly over them.

Macauley sighed, eyes fluttering shut as he pressed their foreheads together. Though the urgency hadn’t left him, she could tell, he was holding it back, content to enjoy that small moment between them first.

“I love ye,” he echoed back to her. “I love ye more than anythin’. Ye’re the brightest thing in me life.”

Cathleen huffed out a soft laugh, fearing that if she didn’t, she would start crying instead. She had already spent too much time crying, though. Even happy tears seemed too much now. She would rather laugh and smile for the rest of her life.

And with Macauley by her side, it seemed like such a simple thing.

The End.

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