Authors: Mary Wine
Lye Rob laughed, looking past Bhaic at her. “Do ye think ye can hurt me?”
Ailis didn’t get the chance to reply. Bhaic took advantage of Lye Rob’s inattention
and charged. Bhaic had his arms open wide and got them around Lye Rob’s chest. He
surged up, lifting the other man off his feet, and twisted around to drop him on the
Lye Rob snarled, but Bhaic had his arms locked around his throat. His arms bulged
as a muscle on the side of his jaw twitched. Lye Rob thrashed, desperately trying
to gain enough leverage to upset Bhaic.
The Gordon retainer near them lifted his arm to join the fight. Ailis never really
decided what she was going to do, but she leaped forward, the branch lifted over her
head. She brought it down on the retainer’s raised arm. The shock shook her bones
and made her elbows ache, but she carried through with the blow.
The retainer yelled, his scream startling several birds above them.
“Not man enough to take me on yer own, Lye Rob?” Bhaic swung him away but pulled the
knife from his hand. “Ye’re a coward, and yer men lack honor.”
Ailis moved in a circle, two burly retainers stalking her. They had their arms stretched
out wide, their stances low. She had to keep shifting her gaze from one to the other
to keep the branch aimed at them.
“Kill Bhaic MacPherson, and the prize is ours, lads!” Lye Rob yelled as he lunged
The retainers made a grab for her, but she swung the branch in a wide arc and hit
one of them on the side of the face. He twisted around and landed on the forest floor
in an unconscious heap.
Lye Rob let out a hoarse cry, and she turned to see him cradling his arm. His wrist
was bent at an odd angle, clearly broken.
“Now this is an interesting scene.” Symon Grant appeared beside her. He lifted one
foot and kicked the retainer still threatening her in the groin. “I almost do nae
have the heart to interrupt. It seems fitting to have Gordon cowards brought low by
The woods were suddenly full of men. Symon’s retainers and Bhaic’s came through the
forest, their expressions deadly.
Lye Rob turned and ran, his kilt bouncing until he was hidden from sight by the trees.
His men followed, and Bhaic grabbed the branch Ailis was still holding in front of
her. He tossed it aside and pulled her against his body.
“Ye could have screamed, lass, but I admit, I think I enjoyed yer response more.”
He pressed a hard kiss against her mouth to the delight of his men.
“Come, me lads, it’s time to head for home. I have a bride to settle.”
He clasped her wrist and pulled her along behind him. Her feet felt clumsy, but the
weight of his men’s stares were on her. Lye Rob was right about the peace being a
fragile one. She forced a smile onto her lips and picked up her feet so Bhaic wasn’t
It was obviously the last May Day where she’d be wearing her hair down. Her gaze settled
on the wide expanse of Bhaic’s shoulders and then down to where his fingers closed
all the way around her wrist.
God help her.
* * *
“Me boy, ye need to stop going off as ye please,” Shamus MacPherson admonished his
son. “Ye’re me son, and as sure as the Blessed Mother was pure, there are men who
would like to send ye home to me dead.”
“No doubt that’s why ye gave him a captain,” Symon supplied with a wink.
Bhaic’s eyes narrowed, and he tugged Ailis closer. “There are times a little privacy
is in order.”
Ailis watched Shamus MacPherson look at her. Really look at her. His face was wrinkled
from the harsh climate of the Highlands. His beard had gone completely white, but
his eyes were still the same brilliant shade of ocean blue. Just like his son’s.
“Aye, I suppose I can understand that.” He was the last man she’d ever expected a
compliment from. Yet it was there, in the twinkle in his eyes. He lifted a hand and
waved her off. “Go on and bid farewell to yer father.”
She lowered herself, placing one foot behind her and bending the knee to give him
She heard his captains making soft sounds of approval. Some of them were stroking
their beards in contemplation as she rose. Gaining respect from them would not be
Bhaic stepped into her path.
“Ye’ll be watched this time, Ailis.”
His tone was low enough to stay between them, but there was no mistaking the rage.
If she did miss it, all she had to do was look into his eyes to see the anger glittering
The man was furious with her.
And she was going home with him.
May Day was the worst day ever to look for a husband.
* * *
“Ye scared her away,” Symon observed. “Nae exactly a good way to preserve the peace.”
“She was off in the woods with Lye Rob.”
Symon crossed his arms over his chest. “Ye know, it’s a fine good thing ye are nae
jealous of the lass.”
Bhaic growled and shoved his friend, but Symon only rocked back on his heels, regaining
his balance with a smirk. “Ye’re so busy being mad at the facts that have landed her
in yer hand, ye have forgotten to look at what a pretty little treat she is.”
“Shut yer mouth, Symon.”
Symon raised one finger instead. “On second thought…”
“The devil take ye,” Bhaic said. “I’ve got a fine memory. Mark me words, yer day is
coming, me friend. The day when a lass twists yer insides with naught more than a
His friend sobered. “It’s that intense?”
The disbelief in his friend’s tone was only a fraction of what Bhaic felt. He looked
at Ailis, his gaze running along the length of blond hair cascading down her back.
She had a pert nose and twin dimples in her cheeks. But it was her curves that made
him ache the worst. His cock began to stiffen again, hardening enough to press against
the heavy wool of his kilt. The damned thing had risen too quickly and too often at
the sight of Ailis.
Of course, she was his wife.
That fact made his lust far less unseemly, at least in theory.
But the application was going to be tricky.
His lips twitched.
He tried to fend off his amusement. There really were too many complications waiting
for them if they tried to make a go of their marriage.
But all he wanted to do was grin at the jest fate was dealing him. All of his adult
life, he’d been told chasing skirts was a sin. Now he had a wife, one the church would
agree was his for the taking, but she was the only woman in the Highlands he had no
His enemy’s daughter.
The ghosts of his grandfather and great-grandfather were no doubt planning a nighttime
appearance to let him know what they thought about him bringing a Robertson bride
Even the thought of the specters wasn’t enough to cool his passion.
But all the passion in the Highlands didn’t make for a good marriage.
* * *
“I’m drunk,” Liam Robertson declared.
Ailis studied her father for a moment. “No, ye are nae,” she corrected him gently.
“Ye never drink so much that yer wits desert ye.”
Her father sniffed, a guilty flush darkening his complexion. “Well now, Daughter,
ye do know me well. The times have been few, and only yer brothers were present.”
“How would ye know?” Ailis questioned. “If yer wits were dulled, how would ye recall
the number of times?”
Her father puffed up. “Because of Highlander honor!”
“Aye, honor.” The word left a sour taste in her mouth. She would be upholding the
family honor in a far different way.
Her father sighed. “Are ye sure ye want to do this, lass? It’s true I planned to decide
the matter of yer future soon, but I would nae see ye frightened of yer groom.”
“I am nae frightened of Bhaic.”
At least not completely scared of the man.
That would have to do.
Her father raised one of his gray brows. “Bhaic, is it?” He frowned. “I’m nae so sure
I like the way that name crosses yer lips so easily.”
She felt her own face darkening, and lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “We are wed.”
“No, ye aren’t,” her father stated firmly. “Words uttered by a servant of God do nae
make ye wed. Nae in the Highland tradition. Ye be married, I agree with that, but
to be wed, the union must be consummated.”
There was a question in her father’s tone, which the answer to might set her free,
but it would also start the fighting again.
“Ye would have chosen a groom for me based on alliances.”
“Aye,” her father agreed.
Ailis looked past her father at the men who were still enjoying the newly forged peace.
“MacPherson and Robertson retainers at ease in one another’s company, it’s a fine
But it also reminded her of just how little she factored into the arrangement. Bhaic
didn’t value her, only what she brought to his clan.
As if that’s anything new when it comes to marriages…
It wasn’t, and she needed to stop thinking like a child. A laird’s daughter kept her
mind on what she might do for her clan.
“Ye look as though ye are trying to convince yerself, Daughter.”
She resisted the urge to shrug and stood steady. “It is the first time I’ve had to
face such an arrangement, and it is a bit…sudden. I will do just fine.”
It was also intense, the way Bhaic affected her.
“Aye, it is sudden,” her father agreed and hugged her tight.
His embrace was a familiar one, and it almost broke her control. But she managed a
smile when he released her and turned around to face her future.
The sight of two MacPherson retainers behind her made her pause.
“You’ll be watched…”
Of course she would be. The peace was too new, too fragile to chance her being scooped
up by a rival clan.
She was one of them, proud of who she was, but for the moment, she was sick unto death
of their feuding ways.
But her feelings were irrelevant. She was the vessel used to secure peace.
So she would have to play her part.
She was a Robertson, and she was no coward.
* * *
Ailis stared at the dark stone structure, absorbing the reality of seeing something
no one else in her clan ever had. It had towers that rose four stories, and at least
four of them, from what she could see. It was perched on the edge of a peninsula that
jutted out into a huge loch. The dark water surrounded the structure on three sides,
making it rather ominous.
They rode through the village in front of the entrance to the castle. People came
out of their homes to see the laird returning, but they glared. The dress she’d been
so excited to wear to the festival this morning felt revealing, her unbound hair some
sort of sin.
A few of the clansmen leaned over and spit when she passed, the scowls on their faces
making their position clear.
She bit her lower lip and forced her chin level.
Her mare felt her discontentment, pulling on her reins and trying to refuse to follow
the line of MacPherson retainers. Ailis reached down and patted her neck gently, wishing
it would be so easy for someone to reassure her.
The memory of Bhaic kissing her neck surfaced.
But that only served to unsettle her more.
By the time they reached the gate, her heart was racing. Her lungs were working hard
to keep pace. Her mare carried her beneath the huge gates into a massive keep at the
center of the castle. Women were spilling out of its huge double doors, calling out
to the returning men. Children clung to their mothers’ skirts, older ones coming down
some of the steps as Shamus and his captains happily smiled and began to dismount.
The cries suddenly died away. Shamus looked up at the women, trying to deduce what
had deflated their joy. He followed their stares to Ailis.
“Aye,” he said as he climbed up the steps of the keep. “Me son’s wife. Ailis Robertson.”
That seemed to be the extent of the welcome he could manage. Her name drew more than
one hiss. She slid down from her mare and ended up facing a young lad, maybe ten years
old. He was one of a small army of boys who had rushed out to take the horses. He
stared, his jaw hanging open and his hands frozen in midair on the way to take the
“Here now.” Bhaic suddenly appeared, thumping the boy on the back. “It’s a horse,
lad. I’m pretty sure horses do nae have clans. Get on with yer duties.”
The boy jumped, his cheeks darkening with the reprimand before he grabbed the reins
and led the mare away.
It left her facing Bhaic. He’d hooked his hands into his belt and stood contemplating
her. Around them, activity stopped, everyone waiting to see what would happen.
Well, at least she was not the only one trying to decide what to make of their union.
He offered her his hand. There was naught to do but take it; still, she felt as if
every muscle she had was frozen. The tension around them tightened. She forced herself
to move, lifting her hand and placing it into his waiting one.
The connection of their flesh made her shudder.
He turned and led her through the frozen ranks of retainers and up the stairs of the
keep. The women parted, but what turned her stomach was the way they pulled their
children behind them.
“This is Duana, me father’s Head of House. She’ll see to ye.”
Duana wasn’t pleased with her assignment. The older woman was plump, and surely her
features could be called kindly. At least when she wasn’t scowling.
Bhaic gave her only a short nod before moving away down one of the passageways with
the rest of his father’s captains.
Which left her facing Duana.
The woman’s lips were pressed into a hard line. She had dark eyes, and dark hair peeked
out from beneath the linen cap she wore. Her apron had several spots on it, and the
scent of fresh bread clung to her skirts, but that was the extent of welcome coming