Highlander’s Battle of Hearts (Preview)
June 7, 1650
The first early morning rays of light cascaded into the room, lighting the stone floors while a gentle breeze billowed the maroon curtains inside. Aindreas groaned as the light struck him, and he rolled over before grabbing his pillow and covering his face with it. There was a light knock at his door, and he sighed while burying his face into the cushions, hoping whoever was standing outside his bedchamber door would leave at once and come back at a later hour.
“Master Aindreas,” Marcus’s deep voice called from beyond the door.
Aindreas shot up from the bed, rubbing the remnants of sleep from his eyes while trying to urge the pounding in his head away. Perhaps he shouldn’t have had that last pint before turning in the night before, but the music had played and the bonnie lasses danced. He couldn’t have left even if he tried.
He stumbled towards the door, leaning against the wall to steady himself for a moment while reaching for his crimson tartan. The cloth was striped in the MacBean clan’s green, blue, black, and white and had been left crumpled on the stone floor next to his bed. He sighed while wrapping it tightly around himself, not caring if he was naked from the waist up. Assuredly, if the maids wanted to have a look, they could.
It wasn’t like him to keep them from being entertained.
Throwing open the door, he winced when the torch flashed in front of him and frowned at the freckled and dirt-stained face of Marcus, who seemed unusually uneasy. The soldier reached into his breast pocket, pulling out a wrinkled envelope with the Cambel’s horned boar insignia. “This came in just now,” Marcus whispered while looking around the halls.
“Well, give it here,” said Aindreas while seizing the envelope.
He turned on his heel, not caring if Marcus joined him or not. He wrote the Cambels several weeks prior. He was beginning to give up hope they would ever answer his invitation. The door creaked closed while he ripped open the envelope, quickly unfolding the letter and inhaling its words.
To the only son of Laird Duncan MacBean, the letter began,
I find it interesting that it is you writing me and not your father, laird of Castle Lachlan, about the circumstances regarding my only daughter, Sorcha. If we were living in different times, I would have burned your letter. However, I cannot deny that your men’s fighting power would aid us in the fight against the MacAlisters, and therefore, I am interested in what an arranged marriage would do for the likes of our clans. My daughter and I will come in a fortnight to meet with your father as tradition will have it. Hopefully, we will be able to come to an agreement, but bear in mind, boy, the Cambel’s do not like to be trifled with. I would hate to travel all the way there only to have my hopes deflated.
Until we meet,
Laird of the Cambel Clan, Paul Cambel.
Aindreas’s hands shook as he reread the letter while his lips lifted into a joyful smile.
“Well?” asked Marcus. “What did he say?”
Aindreas glanced over his shoulder, a broad smile on his face while he met the anxious gaze of his soldier. “He’ll be here in a fortnight.”
Marcus’s eyes widened. “He agreed to it, then?” He frowned and stepped from side to side before grabbing his hat and twisting it with a white-knuckled grip. “I don’t know, Aindreas. Yer father-“
Aindreas scoffed. “My father can’t tell the difference between his right and his left foot at this point.”
Marcus made a face. “Aye, but he is still the laird. He will be angry when he finds out that ye went around him like this.”
Aindreas rolled his eyes and padded towards the trunk at the foot of his bed. He lifted the lid and grabbed the cleanest white shirt he could find, quickly throwing it over his shoulders and tucking the ends into his tartan. “He didn’t believe I could do it, is all,” said Aindreas while searching for his thick wool socks and shoes. “Once he finds out I was successful, he will agree to it.”
Aindreas stepped towards the vanity near the window, taking a moment to splash water onto his pallid face. He gazed back at himself, frowning at the dark circles under his cerulean eyes and the way his golden-brown hairstuck to his face. He still smelled like a pub from the night before. The pipe smoke and the ale lingered on his hair and flesh, but he didn’t have time to call for a bath.
If he played his cards right, he might catch his father before he was dragged from meeting to meeting. The village speakers kept the Laird MacBean busy from dawn to dusk, and although Aindreas was not looking forward to another fight, he knew he needed his father’s aid in at least this. If the MacBeans aligned themselves with the Cambels, then not only would the clan be safe, but Aindreas’s future would be secured.
He could become laird. He would have the power to fight against the MacAlisters. Aindreas straightened himself and pressed his hands against the wrinkles in his shirt, trying to smooth them out.
“I don’t know about this, Master Aindreas.”
Aindreas smirked at his reflection before turning his attentions back to Marcus. “That’s what ye always say, Marcus. Ever since we were young boys, sword fighting in the fields.”
Marcus winced but didn’t say anything.
Aindreas stepped towards him, stopping mere inches away. He raised one finger while smiling brightly at his soldier, his friend. “And haven’t I always been right?”
Marcus scowled. “Hardly.”
Aindreas grabbed Marcus by his shoulders, spinning him around before throwing open the door. “Haven’t I always gotten us out of trouble?”
Marcus rolled his eyes. “Only because ye got us into it in the first place.”
Aindreas ignored Marcus while they strolled down the dimly lit halls of Castle Lachlan and stepped down the winding staircases. “Ye will see my friend,” said Aindreas cheerfully. “Father will eventually see it my way.” He smiled his best at a passing maid, carrying a platter of fruit from the kitchen towards the grand hall.
“Good morn, Master Aindreas,” said the maid while dipping into a short curtsy. She smiled shyly up at him, her doe brown eyes gleaming with sheer joy.
Aindreas winked at her while reaching for two apples and juggling them effortlessly in the air. “Good morn, Miss. Don’t ye look bonnie today?”
The maid giggled, her gaze fluttering up to him before dipping back to the floor. “Why, thank ye, Master Aindreas.”
Aindreas heard Marcus’s irritated sigh and glanced over his shoulder, finding his friend crossing his arms while shaking his head.
“What?” Aindreas asked with a shrug.
“What in heaven’s name are ye doing still standing out here?” he heard Cook shouting from the Grand Hall. He chuckled while watching the poor maid rush towards the entrance.
“Apologies,” the maid murmured, her head bowed low.
“Apologies will do ye no good here, lassie,” said Cook while swatting the girl’s bottom with a dirty rag. She turned her shrewd grey eyes onto Aindreas, who held a hand to his mouth in an attempt to keep himself from laughing too loud. He didn’t need Cook on his back, although the hand over his mouth did nothing to divert Cook’s attention. Her brows tented into a deep scowl as she waddled her portly body towards him.
“Master Aindreas,” she said without a bow. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked him over. “Good of ye to finally join us. I thought ye were going to sleep the morn away.”
Aindreas blinked innocently while pressing a hand against his chest. “Me?” he asked while glancing over his shoulder at Marcus, who was still shaking his head. “Why, I would never!”
Cook pursed her lips while peeking over his shoulder at Marcus. “And what trouble is he getting up to now, young Marcus?”
“Ye don’t want to know,” came Marcus’s reply, which sounded more like a groan to Aindreas’s ears.
“Now, isn’t that a new ring?” Aindreas grabbed Cook’s hand and brought the ring to his gaze. He squeezed Cook’s hand lightly while offering her his best charming smile. Cook’s scowl darkened, yet there was nothing she could do to hide the soft blush staining her cheeks. The gold band glimmered on her finger. “A present from yer husband, I suppose?”
“Oh, enough with ye,” said Cook while lurching her hand from his grasp. “Off with ye, now. Before I whip ye like the good old days.”
Aindreas chuckled while quickly stepping inside, barely missing the swat of Cook’s towel against his rump. He looked around the large hall, draped in the MacBean banner streaming down from the walls with the grey wildcat sewn into the cloth. The men and women of the clan gathered around the long tables, breaking their fast with a variety of pastries and dried cheeses. He searched the tables for his father, knowing he wouldn’t find him at the head, but amongst his men, probably already discussing the taxes for the next season and the harvest.
“Good morn, Master Aindreas,” came a sultry voice and a soft caress on his arm.
He turned, smiling down at a maid he knew well, yet her name escaped his mind. Her sultry red lips and big blue eyes could halt any man’s heart. Aindreas glanced over his shoulder while he shifted anxiously from foot to foot. He didn’t have time to speak with her, although their regular meetings hardly ever involved speaking, only the gentle press of lips upon lips. He barely had time for that as well.
“I missed ye the other night,” he heard her say, drawing him away from the crowd of gathering men.
He forced a smile and stroked a curl away from her cheek, hoping he seemed genuine, when deep down, all he wanted to do was find his father. “And I ye,” he said softly, so no one but she could hear. “But now is not the right time.”
He turned to leave, but her hand tightened on his arm. “Will I see ye tonight?”
Aindreas’s smile thinned, and he tilted his head in a curt nod. “Of course.” He watched the worry leave her eyes and a joyful smile grace her lips before he quickly turned and stalked towards the group of men standing in the corner.
“Father?” Aindreas called while stepping through the crowd. He frowned when the village speakers glanced his way, offering a brief greeting, yet he could not find his father amongst them. They nodded and bowed towards him, making him feel young and inferior. He turned around, wondering if his father was indeed dining with his aunt and cousin. His father’s chair was empty, and his aunt, Alisa, was watching him with sharp brown eyes.
He held his head high while he strode through the hall towards his aunt, who straightened in her long-backed chair. She was a reed-like woman, tall and lithe with pale skin that seemed never to see the daylight. If it wasn’t for her dour demeanor, Aindreas supposed she looked a bit like his mother. A fact he often tried to ignore. Her son, Daniel, was similar to his aunt and Aindreas’s mother, with brown eyes and a frail body. However, rather than having Alisa’s thick brown hair, which seemed to grow grayer by the day, his cousin had bouncing dark curls, like his father before him.
Aindreas was different. A fact that never ceased to haunt him.
He didn’t look like anyone in his family, not with his fair looks and stocky build. Nothing about him was reed or waif-like with his muscled arms and broad shoulders. It was something most men would yearn for. It was something Aindreas often gloated about unless he was thinking about his mother’s last words before her passing.
Aindreas smiled bitterly at his aunt. “Where’s Father?”
Her eyes widened, looking shocked, but Aindreas saw through her. She was mocking him. She was always mocking him. “Ye mean, he didn’t tell ye?”
“Tell me what?” Aindreas looked between Daniel and Alisa, waiting for someone to tell him what was going on.
“Uncle Duncan left last night,” said Daniel, a hint of surprise coating his tone. “He said it would be just a short trip. We expect him back later tonight or tomorrow. Did he really not say a word to ye?”
Aindreas’s mouth hung open, and he offered a short shake of his head in answer. “How can that be?” he breathed, feeling both shocked and hurt. He tried to replay the night before in his head. They had fought and exchanged words no normal father and son would say, yet Aindreas couldn’t fathom that would be the reason as to why his father wouldn’t inform him of his trip.
“I thought he told ye,” said Alisa sweetly while clasping her hands elegantly in her lap. She looked up at him as if she were queen of all, and he was nothing more than a pauper. Aindreas’s jaw clenched while he attempted to restrain himself. For all he knew, his aunt was correct in the way she treated him.
For he was nothing.
Alisa dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her handkerchief. “Whatever ye may need him for, I’m sure it can wait.”
Aindreas’s hands fisted at his sides. “No, it cannot,” he said between his clenched teeth.
His aunt looked amused. A wicked gleam glinted in her eyes while she tilted her head to the side as if she was soon to give him a lecture on proper etiquette like she once did when he was a young boy. “Well, why don’t ye speak with me? I’ll be sure to give yer father the missive.”
Aindreas smirked. “I didn’t know ye liked to play messenger, Aunt Alisa.”
Alisa’s smile dropped, and her eyes narrowed. “I am no one’s messenger, boy, but I cannot have ye yelling at yer father once more. He’s getting too old to put up with yer immaturity and selfishness.”
“I am only looking out for the clan’s best interests,” Aindreas whispered harshly while pressing his hands against the table, towering over his aunt while scowling down at her.
Alisa scoffed. “The clan’s best interests, Aindreas? Don’t ye mean yer own?”
Aindreas opened his mouth, but Daniel quickly rose from his seat before he could say a word. “Enough,” he said, his voice nearly a shout as the boy looked between Aindreas and Alisa. “Not another word from ye both. I will not have another family squabble ruining my day.” Daniel leveled his glare on Aindreas. “Uncle will be back soon. I’m sure he didn’t mean not to tell ye.”
Aindreas sighed and turned on his heel. “I’m sure he did mean to,” he murmured while striding out of the hall, trying to ignore the stares of the elders and servants while he stalked out of the room.
He didn’t stop until he was in the courtyard, watching the soldiers train and fight while grabbing a practice sword. Without saying a word, he attacked, striking his sword against a soldier’s shield before twirling around and blocking a strike from behind. If all else failed, he could fight. Fighting was the only thing that calmed him, assuaged his fears. It was the only thing that helped after his mother’s death. The only thing that allowed him to ignore his mother’s words, whispering darkly at the back of his head. The only thing that could help him get through the fact that his father had caused his mother’s death.
Blair lugged three large logs in her arms while moving quickly through the field. Her gaze kept returning to the dark clouds hanging low in the sky while the winds whipped through her dark hair, making the strands scratch against her flesh. The sky rumbled in warning, and she cursed herself for not working quickly. She still had much to finish before the rains began: tending to the mare, starting the fire, tidying the garden supplies, moving the wagon back into the barn. Lightning flashed above her, signaling she had run out of time.
She urged herself forward, grunting while shoving open the cottage door. The wood tumbled from her arms onto the floorboards while the door slammed back and forth against the entrance. The winds whistled while another flash cracked in the air. A horse cried out in the distance, and Blair turned on her heel, running outside towards the struggling mare running back and forth in the gated field.
Blair grabbed a rope lying on the fence and tied it around the mare’s neck before opening the gate. “Don’t worry,” she murmured to the mare, who neighed and swayed from side to side as thunder rumbled above them. “It will be alright. Ye will be fine in just a few minutes. I promise ye.”
She led the mare towards the barn. Rain dropped from the heavens one droplet at a time before picking up in speed and depth. Blair paused several feet from the barn door, finding a horse standing outside it.
“Who are ye?” she whispered to the stallion while stroking its dark hair, cascading down its dark flanks. “Where is yer master?” Blair looked around for a moment until her eyes narrowed on the ajar barn door.
Blair’s heart hammered in her chest. She knew being a woman living on her own could be difficult, yet she had hoped a day like today would never come. The mare behind her cried as lightning flashed again, followed by a sharp crash of sound. The rope pulled through her palm, ripping against flesh and making Blair hiss. She released the tether and whirled around, fumbling to grab it once more before the mare could run away.
“Easy!” Blair cried out, holding up her other hand while trying to calm the horse crying in front of her. “Everything is fine.” Blair’s voice quivered with her words, finding it difficult to find truth in them. She didn’t have a weapon. She didn’t know how to defend herself against any man wanting to take advantage of her. Her eyes scanned the area, landing on a hoe that still needed to be tidied. She seized it with her free hand and crept towards the door, opening it further and peering inside its shadowy depths.
“Hello?” she called out while looking around.
Silence greeted her.
She edged deeper inside, holding out the gardening tool while pulling the mare behind her. “Is anyone there?”
Something clanged. She jumped, letting go of the rope and holding the hoe with both hands in front of her. “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to use it,” she said while whipping it around herself. Rain poured down, clattering against the roof and dripping into the barn. “Show yerself right now!”
She heard a groan from behind and whirled around, finding an elderly-looking man stumbling towards her. His greying brown hair stuck to his face while droplets of sweat glistened his pale skin.
“Blair,” he murmured while swaying on his legs. His glazed green eyes tried to focus on her before fluttering closed. He leaned against a beam, propping his body up while wiping the sweat from his brow. “I need Blair.”
Blair slowly lowered her weapon but did not drop it. “I’m Blair,” she said while cautiously stepping towards him. “Do I know ye, sir?”
The man groaned and slipped to the ground. He reached into his pockets, pulling out a handkerchief and pressing it to his mouth as he coughed violently. Blair dropped her weapon as memories of Mamó’s death came rushing back to her. She kneeled in front of the man, watching him rasp into his handkerchief.
“Let me help ye,” she whispered while crawling towards him. She wrapped his arm around her shoulders and rose, struggling with his dead weight holding her down.
“Yer Mamó,” he murmured while she stumbled out of the barn. “Where is yer Mamó?”
“Dead,” Blair said through clenched teeth, trying to ignoring the tears welling in her eyes and the pain seizing her heart. She frowned at his horse, pausing for a moment while the rain poured down, soaking her hair and her clothes. Glancing between the horse and the man, she knew she would need to return for his horse and ensure the stallion was fed and tended to, but first, she needed to help the man inside.
The man’s head lulled towards her, and she watched his green eyes widen in horror upon her. Blair ignored his stare while urging them forward and kicking open the door to the cottage. Her arms trembled, and she clenched her teeth, biting through the burn while fighting to keep him steady. She was going to drop him soon. She just needed to get to the bed first. With one final step, she lowered him onto the cot and heaved a sigh in relief before running outside and grabbing his stallion by the reins.
“Let’s get ye inside before ye catch a chill,” she said to the horse before pulling him inside the barn and locking the doors.
She ran through the rain back to the cottage, finding the man burying himself underneath the blankets. Blair set herself to starting the fire, piling the logs underneath the pot and clicking the stones against each other with shivering fingers.
“How could yer Mamó be dead?” she heard the man whisper from her side.
Blair inhaled deeply to calm herself, knowing she would burst into tears if they continued discussing the matter. “Been dead two years now, sir. I apologize if ye had business with her.” She glanced at the man out of the corner of her eye, taking in his crimson tartan with the MacBean colors and his wildcat emblem hooked at his shoulder. His clothes were soaked through by fever and rain.
“Let me help ye out of yer clothes,” she said while moving towards him and taking his emblem, noticing it was made out of genuine silver.
“I needed her help.” Blair cringed at the desperate tone in the man’s voice. “She was the only one who could help me.”
Blair didn’t know what to say. She knew very little about her Mamó’s past. The elderly woman had kept too much from Blair, protecting her from the world and preventing her from taking part in it. She pulled the man’s shirt over his head and placed it near the fire in the hopes it would dry. She returned to help with his tartan, but before she could remove it, the man snatched her hand and wrenched her forward.
Blair bit back a scream as the man’s green eyes focused on her. Her eyes widened in horror, wondering if he was faking ill all along. She waited for him to say anything while his feverish skin warmed her fingers. His eyes, filled with a wild fear, slowly softened as he stared upon her.
“Ye look so much like her,” he breathed while releasing her.
“Like who?” Blair whispered, but the man didn’t say anything as his body sluggishly laid back on the bed. His shoulders heaved while another bout of coughing took over.
“Let me get ye some tea.” Blair turned on her heel and went for the cabinets. “I’m sure something in here can help ye.” She grabbed a jar filled with herbs, not knowing exactly what lay inside, but knowing it was the jar Mamó had often chosen when Blair was sick as a little girl. She ladled out hot water into a mug and mixed the herbs with a spoon, hoping, at the very least, it would calm his nerves.
Blair handed him the tea, watching him guzzle it down quickly before setting it on the nightstand near him. She waited for him to say something or at least explain who she reminded him of, yet all he did was close his eyes. Within mere moments, his breathing became steady.
She watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest while he slept, unable to rest herself due to the storm raging outside and this strange old man in her bed. Wiping the sweat from his brow, she wondered how he knew her Mamó and why he would come after all these years.
Blair groaned, her hands clinging to the armrest. She had tried to remain awake the whole night, wanting to look after the elderly man residing under her roof to ensure his survival, yet sleep had claimed her. She blinked her eyes open, rubbing them while she looked around the room. The sun had already risen, and light peeked into the room through the small window near the bed.
Her gaze lowered, settling on the elderly man, who watched her with weary eyes from where he lay on the mattress. Concern was etched in his eyes and a sense of familiarity she couldn’t quite place. She recognized his gaze from somewhere, but she couldn’t recall where from. She shifted away from him in her seat, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. How long had he been watching her? she wondered uneasily. She wasn’t used to having guests under her roof, nor was she used to people watching her while she slept.
She slid out of her chair and pushed her tangled hair away from her eyes before grabbing her shawl resting on the table behind her. Swinging it over her shoulders, she asked softly, “How do ye feel, sir?” She did not know what to do with such a man or what she should say. It had been so long since she had the company of others; too long, in fact. Her fingers fidgeted with the fraying ends of the red fabric while she kept her head bowed and her back turned.
“Fine, thanks to ye,” came the elderly man’s rasp.
Blair nodded while edging towards the door. “I’m glad.” She slowly turned around, wondering what more she could do for the man now that he was better. She needed to get the horses out of the barn and into the pasture. She needed to look for any damage the storm may have caused to the cottage or the fields. There was too much to do in such little time, and there was a high likelihood she wouldn’t finish all her duties. This was always the case, making each day drag on and on.
At least she always had something to do, something to keep her from thinking of her pitiful life. It was when she stopped to think of her loneliness when the pain and despair took hold of her, making her crack and break into sobs no one would ever hear.
The man groaned, pushing his body up into a sitting position, and Blair found herself stepping towards him, grabbing his hands and helping him get comfortable. “Ye should take it easy,” she said while positioning the pillows behind his back. “Ye may be better, but I don’t think yer fully fit yet.”
The man chuckled, yet his laughter was short-lived as the coughing took over. Once again, Blair was reminded of her Mamó as she watched him press a hand against his mouth and wipe the spittle from his lips. She grabbed the cleanest towel near the pot at the fireplace, cringing at the dirt she found on the cloth, but it was the only thing she could offer him.
“Thank ye,” said the man while taking it and pressing it against his mouth. “Sadly, I don’t believe I will ever be fit again.”
Thinking of her Mamó reminded her of what the man said before, and she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “How did ye know my Mamó?”
The man sighed. “I didn’t quite know her. Only of her.” He lowered the towel into his lap and stared up at her, his mouth hanging open slightly as he searched for his next words. “It was yer mama I knew. Ye look,” the man paused, and Blair noticed his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “Ye look so much like her.” He shook his head, running a trembling hand through his hair. “She used to be a maid at Castle Lachlan.”
“Is that where yer from?”
The man chuckled. “That’s where I live. I am the Laird Duncan MacBean.”
Blair’s eyes widened, and she quickly dropped into a low curtsy. “Laird MacBean,” she whispered harshly while bowing her head, feeling mortified that the laird was in her dismal cottage, and she had hardly provided him more than a simple cup of tea for his troubles. “My apologies, my laird. I did not know ye. I should have-“ She felt a hand on her head, halting her words as he patted her gently like he would a young lad.
“‘Tis fine, Child.”
Blair lifted her gaze, finding Laird MacBean smiling at her kindly. She slowly rose from her curtsy and straightened herself, suddenly feeling even more self-conscious of her person. Her hands smoothed her wrinkled skirts before running through her tangled hair. She inwardly cringed, knowing she probably looked more like a Bean-nighe than the ladies he was accustomed to meeting.
“Let me offer my genuine condolences for the loss of yer Mamó.” Laird MacBean sighed and wiped a hand over his face. “I did not know she had passed. If I had, I would have come sooner.”
Blair edged closer to his side. So many questions pestered her, taunting her. Why did he have need to come? She and her family were nothing more than peasant folk. Why did he have need to check up on her Mamó? How did he even know her name?
It was the one question she was desperate to ask.
Blair parted her lips, the words on the tip of her tongue, yet she couldn’t speak them no matter how much she tried. She hardly knew this man. He was several stations above her. How could she question him?
“It doesn’t matter now,” Laird MacBean said while reaching for his tartan on the floor. “I am here now, and that is what matters.” He forced a smile, tilting his head to the side. “Would ye like to come with me and live a better life in my castle?”
Blair’s mouth hung open. Startled, she stumbled backward into her chair, nearly toppling it over. She grabbed the back of it, partly to keep it stable and partly to stop the trembling in her hands. “Join ye?” she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper. “How could ye ask such a thing? I am nothing more than a commoner. Ye hardly know me at all.”
Laird MacBean nodded his head. “Aye, yer right. ‘‘Tis a crazy thing to ask, and yet I ask it. Wouldn’t ye rather have a better life? Around others, learning to become a proper lady. Perhaps find someone to marry.” Laird MacBean looked around the room, his nose scrunching upwards as he took in the dusty beams and the cluttered pots. “I shan’t imagine ye would prefer to stay here of all places, but ‘‘tis yer choice to make.”
Blair’s brow furrowed as she watched the old laird tie his tartan awkwardly around his waist before removing the blanket from his body. He slowly rose, reaching for his shirt and pulling it over his freckled shoulders. “I still don’t know why ye would want me?” Blair found herself asking, her voice hardly above a whisper.
“Yer a good caretaker. It would be a waste to have yer skills go unused. I could use someone like ye to help me.” His gaze met hers, rooting her to the floorboards, and she found herself unable to look away from those familiar eyes. “I’ve been unwell for the past year. I only ask ye keep my ailment a secret. I don’t need any more prying eyes. I already have that enough as it is.” He grimaced. “The vultures keep swarming around me, wondering when I’ll die, so they can fight over the lairdship. My son, bless his soul, being one of them.”
Her hands grasped her skirts as she watched him reach for his boots, taking out his sgian-dubh for a moment. He looked over the knife before placing it back into his boot and stuffing his foot inside. Blair clenched her jaw as he stood, not knowing what to do. This was her Mamó’s home. It was once her mother’s home. How could she leave the only place that held such memories of joy and wisdom? She had chopped the vegetables with her Mamó at the table. She had stirred the pot. She had learned her letters, learned how to ride a horse in the pastures just outside her home.
And her Mamó had passed away on that very bed.
Truly, there was nothing for her here: nothing but pain and loneliness. If she were to stay, she would continue living out her days, wondering what could have come to pass. She straightened her back, jutting out her chin and hoping she appeared more refined in the laird’s eye.
“I will go with ye.”
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