Authors: Mary Wine
Never once in her life would she have even jested about seeing her father and his
enemy sitting down at the same table.
That was a sad thing to admit, a lack on her part not to see the merit of peace.
She should have thought about it, should have longed for it. The feud claimed lives
every year, staining the fresh season of spring with death. Thinking of a way to end
the feud should have crossed her mind and stayed as something she could not dismiss.
Perhaps she should have continued kissing Bhaic last night.
It was a strange, alien idea, but not without its merits. The earl was right about
alliances ending feuds.
The regret was hard to ignore, leaving guilt to chew on her as she entered the hall
and felt everyone watching her. She lifted her chin and forced her lips into a sweet
curve. At least she might make sure there would be no reason for Bhaic to accuse her
of blackening his name by appearing abused.
It was a beginning. A step away from the hatred she’d always accepted as the only
way to think about MacPhersons.
The Earl of Morton watched them throughout the meal, his keen stare soaking up details.
Ailis took the broken bread from Bhaic’s hands, once he’d blessed the meal and passed
it to his father and then her own. The men watching stroked their beards and grinned.
She witnessed the mood in the hall lightening, astonished by how much her actions
influenced her father’s men.
“Well done, Ailis,” Bhaic whispered beside her. “Ye have shamed me with yer show of
unity, and I thank ye for showing me the error of me ways.”
There was a note of appreciation in his tone that warmed her on a deep level, but
she shied away from acknowledging it completely.
He wasn’t her husband, not truly.
And she was pleased. Yes. Very pleased.
Unless she thought upon the matter too long.
* * *
The Earl of Morton watched them all mount. Ailis felt a lump form in her throat again
when the MacPherson retainers surrounded her. But she kept her expression serene and
her thoughts on riding out of the yard.
One step at a time.
She wouldn’t think about dealing with Bhaic tonight. No. She’d focus on escaping the
earl first. Bhaic was no more interested in being her husband than she was in becoming
his true wife. There was no other reason for him to have left her a virgin.
She held that thought tightly, using it to fend off the panic trying to claim her.
They rode off toward MacPherson land. Her father followed them for a time before heading
inland. She fought not to look after him longingly.
“I think I might accuse ye of being a skilled actress, Ailis.” Bhaic had come up beside
her, looking powerful on his stallion. He didn’t linger inside the ranks of his father’s
men but rode along the sides, keeping his eyes on the horizon for trouble.
“Is that because ye wish to find a new insult?” she questioned.
His eyes narrowed. “I have the right to be suspicious of ye.”
“As do I, of ye,” she countered, feeling bone tired of their clashes. “Yet that leaves
us trading barbs.”
She expected him to take insult, but he surprised her by reaching down and catching
her mare’s bridle. He had her reins in his grasp before she realized what he was doing.
He dug his heels into his stallion’s sides and led her mare away from the MacPherson
retainers. The road was surrounded by thick forest, the trees hiding them within moments
of their exit from the road.
“What are ye doing?” Ailis asked.
She ordered herself to remain calm, but the idea that he might murder her still rose
up to horrify her.
He turned and faced her. Ailis tried to gather her courage as she waited for him to
answer her. The afternoon sunlight shone off the pommel of his sword where it rose
above his left shoulder. She couldn’t help but stare at it. The earl’s men had worn
swords on their hips, but Bhaic clung to the Highland ways.
“Do nae insult me by thinking I’ve brought ye out here to kill ye, Ailis.”
She jerked her gaze away from the sword to find him glaring at her.
“I am a Highlander. I do nae fight me wars through women.” There was truth edging
“Then what are ye about?” she asked.
He closed his mouth and contemplated her. She could see him considering something,
the look in his eyes serious.
“I witnessed something this morning I never thought to in me lifetime,” Bhaic began.
She nodded, still unsure as to how to accept the idea of seeing MacPherson and Robertson
retainers breaking bread together. Truly, it might have been easier to grasp seeing
a true fairy.
“I should have thought of it, and that is my shame,” Bhaic said gravely. “As the next
laird, I should have considered leading me clan away from constant bloodshed. Morton
spoke a solid truth: ’twas three generations ago and certainly no’ the first time
a bride was stolen away in the Highlands.”
“True, as much as I detest his methods,” she admitted. “We’ll all be better for having
been made to see it.”
“Aye,” Bhaic agreed.
“But I did nae plot to help him,” she added quickly. “I knew naught of his schemes.”
Bhaic wasn’t sure he believed her. She saw him considering her with doubt in his eyes.
Such amazing blue eyes. They seemed full of life in a way she’d never noticed a man’s
eyes might be.
“What I’m thinking about most is the fact that I saw me clansmen breaking bread with
Robertsons. Something ye did much to encourage by smiling sweetly and sitting by me
side with grace.”
Now he was complimenting her again, and she warmed beneath his praise.
“It was the right thing to do,” she whispered. “Since ye…treated me gently.”
He drew in a stiff breath. “It disturbs me to see ye grateful for such a thing. I
am nae a monster. I do nae rape.”
“Ye’re a MacPherson.” The words were out of her mouth before she thought on them.
His face darkened. “Sorry. It’s just… I do nae know any other way to think of ye.
Is nae that why ye called me a liar? Because I am a Robertson?”
He nodded, conceding the point. “That brings me back to the shame of nae thinking
about ending this feud. Ye did nae expect me to behave honorably.”
“Ye did.” A surprise, but a pleasant one. A dear one. Truly. She offered him a smile
He leaned forward. “I want ye to come home with me, Ailis.”
She recoiled, pulling on the reins out of reflex. Her mare stepped back in response.
Bhaic eased his stallion forward.
“Ye did nae have to bring me out here to tell me yer will.” Disappointment edged her
words and twisted cruelly through her.
He spoke slowly. “I’m asking ye.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “That did nae sound like a question.”
He shrugged, unrepentant. “I did nae have to bring ye out here and give ye a choice.
So do nae quibble over the wording. I’m as shocked as ye are that I’m saying the words.
Yet I would prove meself the brute ye’ve labeled me if I gave ye no choice.”
Shock held her silent for a long moment. By rights, she belonged to him. His retainers
would make sure she arrived on MacPherson land even if she went bound and gagged.
But the memory of the past night rose up to torment her with how volatile their reaction
to each other was. It was like some sort of combustion; when together, they lost their
wits and all sense of control.
She shook her head. “We are nae good together.”
“Perhaps it was a mistake to leave ye a maiden, lass.” He eased his stallion up beside
her, setting off a ripple of awareness that traveled down her body. “There is passion
between us, and ye are too innocent to realize it is no’ a common thing. Ye kissed
me sweetly, lass.”
He reached out and cupped her chin, his eyes bright with hunger. It made her breathless,
when she knew it was wrong.
“Aye, but there is something more.” He leaned closer, until his breath teased the
surface of her lips. “There is something deeper.”
She shivered, turning her head to avoid his lips. “Something wicked.”
He chuckled, the sound low and menacing. A warning bell went off inside her mind,
but it was too late. He’d leaned over and scooped her off her mare before she could
She gasped and grabbed for the only solid thing she could reach. Which was Bhaic.
It was instinct, the need to feel something solid instead of being suspended in midair.
When she landed in his lap, his stallion sidestepped nervously.
“Nae wicked if we’re wed, lass.”
“Well… I suppose…”
He captured her head and tilted his to the side so he might fit their lips together.
This time, there was no hold from slumber to interfere in the intensity of the kiss.
It was shattering. The connection so hot, she felt her insides melting once again.
Her heart began to pound, but she didn’t care. She wanted to kiss him back and mimicked
the motions of his lips as she learned the art. He growled softly through the kiss,
startling her with the ferocity of his response.
She pushed against him, ducking beneath his arm and sliding down the side of his stallion.
“Sweet Christ, Ailis!”
The horse danced away, screaming with displeasure. She ran after her mare and used
a rock to mount.
“That was a bloody insane risk to take!” Bhaic scolded her.
He was right. Her father would have thrashed her for being so careless near a stallion.
One kick could have split her skull.
But a lifetime of sense had abandoned her the moment he kissed her. It was overwhelming
and suffocating. She gathered up the reins and pointed her mare in the direction of
Robertson land. She leaned low over the horse’s neck as it took off. Once they cleared
the forest, Ailis gave the mare free rein.
In spite of the pounding of her mount’s hooves, she heard Bhaic giving chase. She
refused to look over her shoulder, forcing herself to believe she could outrun him.
He truly was the monster she’d been raised to fear.
If she stayed near him, he’d devour even her soul.
* * *
The head of his father’s retainers drew up beside Bhaic. Ronald watched Ailis as she
rode across the borderland between Bhaic’s father’s and hers.
“Are we pleased about the little lass’s escape or no’?”
Bhaic resisted the urge to smash Ronald in the jaw. The impulse soured his mood even
No woman had ever affected him so violently. And he’d never been unhappy to see a
Robertson fleeing from him.
It was a sensation he wasn’t sure he was comfortable with. Women were enjoyable but
never too distracting. He had matters to see to, important ones that didn’t allow
for any sort of obsession.
So it was better that Ailis Robertson was on her way.
“I’ll have the marriage annulled next year,” Bhaic told his captain. “That should
give the councilors surrounding the king enough time to become disenchanted with the
Earl of Morton and his ideas on ruling the country.”
Ronald cocked his head to one side. “That will be difficult, what with the stained
“It was nae the lass’s blood. She’ll agree. As ye can see, she has no taste for this
Surprise widened Ronald’s eyes before he grinned. “In that case, ripping her chemise
was a fine bit of trickery.”
“Aye,” Bhaic answered even as the memory surfaced to needle him.
Convincing a female to share his bed was a favorite challenge, and he’d enjoyed having
Ailis in his bed. The moments of the night replayed across his mind, tempting him
to set his heels into the sides of his stallion and run her down. Ronald was watching
him, picking up the indecision on his face. Bhaic cursed. The lass would have a right
to call him a brute if he chased her down with half his men along.
The Earl of Morton was right about one thing though: it was a changing world. Ships
were sailing farther, discovering new lands, and Rome was losing its grip on the world.
Still, he wasn’t willing to resort to forcing a woman into his bed. He knew she’d
enjoyed his kiss, and the thought made him chuckle.
She was a virgin all right.
And one who had been sheltered when it came to the coarser nature of men. Her father
truly was to be commended for making sure his men kept their dallying from her eyes.
No’ just any laird could manage such a feat. Castles were large, and Highlanders were
lusty by nature. Sundown offered dark passageways for liaisons. Even the laird’s daughter
was bound to see the blunt realities of life if someone wasn’t minding her chastity.
He grunted, his respect for his father’s enemy growing again.
Ailis had cleared the ridge and disappeared down the other side of it.
She had the right idea. It had been insanity to ask her to stay. She would have distracted
him. What he needed was a wife who would bear his children and welcome him into a
warm bed when he had time for her.
But it was still the first time he’d been displeased to see a Robertson fleeing his
* * *
“Only a MacPherson would fail to see what a gem me daughter is.”
Ailis sent her father a stern look, but he ignored her.
“Mind ye, I was dead set against the marriage, but me daughter is a true Robertson.
She puts her clansmen above herself,” Liam Robertson continued. His captains hung
on his words, and the servants nodded as they performed their duties. Young lookouts
fidgeted behind the captains, their eyes glowing with hatred for the MacPherson.
It sickened her, and unleashed a wave of guilt powerful enough to drown her.
Perhaps she should have taken Bhaic’s offer. A shiver worked its way across her skin.
A month later, she shouldn’t have been so sensitive to the memory.
But she was.
It played and replayed in her dreams. She woke swearing she smelled Bhaic in her bed,
detected his warmth between the sheets. Felt his kiss lingering on her lips.