Authors: Mary Wine
Ailis bent her knees and twisted free of Bhaic’s hold. “They loathe each other. We
have to stop them.”
She grabbed the front of her skirts and began running.
She froze, Bhaic’s tone ringing with authority. It sent a shiver down her back—she
understood now just what gave him the fierce reputation she’d heard about near the
hearth during the winter months.
“Ye’ll stay away from the fighting.” He was shrugging into his doublet.
He passed by her, moving with purpose toward the edge of the forest. The longer length
of his kilt in the back swayed with his motions as Symon joined him, forming a wall
she was stuck behind. Their longer strides made her run to keep up.
But the quiet beyond the forest made her double her efforts.
The musicians had stopped playing, some of the merchants quickly pulled their wares
off the counters of their booths. Women were herding the children away from the massing
members of her clan and the MacPhersons.
The Grants and Gordons were doing their best to keep the two separated, but the expressions
of her clansmen warned her that their tempers were short.
And not likely to last much longer.
Her father pointed his finger at Laird MacPherson. “Me daughter is pure! Ye’ll be
taking back that insult, or I’ll beat it out of ye!”
Shamus MacPherson tossed his head back and laughed, the men behind him following their
laird’s example. “Everyone saw yer daughter dancing with Lye Rob, making sure he got
a good look at her ankles! Ye can nae expect me son to ignore a free tumble!”
“Ailis Robertson is me wife!”
Both lairds turned to see who was shouting. Shamus MacPherson’s face darkened when
he found himself facing his son.
“And it’s May Day, the time for dancing on the green,” Bhaic said.
Liam Robertson wasn’t going to be satisfied with such an explanation. He tried to
push past the Gordon retainer holding him back from Shamus MacPherson. The man let
him through but closed the gap quickly to keep the Robertson captains from following
“I never agreed to this marriage!” He stormed up to Shamus and poked him in the chest.
“Me daughter is too good for the likes of a MacPherson! I won’t have it!”
“But me son has already had her, and did nae see fit to keep her!” Shamus shouted.
“I’ll nae stand for her weaving her spell over him because she can do no better!”
“Enough!” Bhaic shouldered his way between the lairds, Symon joining him. “The lass
is nae part of this feud, Father.”
He tempered his tone, but his father still took offense. “She’s a Robertson!”
“I know it well, but there is a measure of wisdom in the Earl of Morton’s idea to
end this fighting.”
Neither laird was willing to soften their stance, but the men behind them found it
to his liking. Expressions lightened, and dirks were replaced in the tops of boots
with looks of relief.
Her father glared at Bhaic. “Ye sent me girl back to me. The union is dissolved by
yer actions. Ailis? We are heading home!”
It felt as if someone had stuck a dirk through her.
It shouldn’t have. Robertson Castle was her home, and she adored it, but Bhaic’s silence
stung her pride and something deeper. Something she never would have considered ever
feeling for a MacPherson.
But she refused to show it. If Bhaic was going to watch her leave, she would not grant
him any last looks over her shoulder.
She reached down and grabbed her dress so she wouldn’t step on it. Bhaic grasped a
handful of the back of her skirt and pulled her to a stop.
“I was giving her time to adjust to our union,” Bhaic said. “The earl sprang it upon
us so suddenly, I thought to spare ye and her a harsh parting.”
Liam shook with rage. “Is that so?”
Bhaic nodded curtly a single time.
Her father raised his finger into the air. “Then why did yer father call me daughter
a harlot? Why does yer own sire know naught of yer plan to claim yer bride?” he shouted.
“Because a MacPherson does nae know how to speak the truth! They are born with lies
on their lips!”
“Father!” Ailis ducked around Bhaic and pushed her father away from Shamus MacPherson.
“Yer words are too harsh.”
Her sire looked at her as if she’d gone insane.
“Too harsh?” Liam demanded. “They are…MacPhersons!”
She was suddenly bearing the weight of all her clansmen. There were more than two
hundred burly Highlanders leaning in to hear for themselves what she would say. The
women farther up the hill edged closer and cupped their hands behind their ears. Whatever
she said, it would be branded upon her forehead for the rest of her life. If blood
flowed in response, it would stain her hands for certain.
She swallowed and lifted her chin.
“No child is born hating.” Brows lowered among her kin, their lips pressing into hard
lines. “I detest the way the earl made his point, but he was right about one thing,
we’ve all learned to hate one another over something that was done generations ago.”
She lowered her voice. “Maybe it’s time to look to what sort of future we can build
if we are nae consumed with the past.”
“How dare ye say such a thing!”
The two lairds had spoken simultaneously, and were now stunned into silence. They
stared at each other, sticking out their chests, but neither could take back what
he’d spoken. Her father started to stroke his beard, until he realized Shamus MacPherson
was doing the same.
Neither was happy about having anything in common with the other, but they could not
“How nice to know ye both agree.” Symon Grant raised his voice so it might be heard
by all those straining to hear. “I’ll admit that’s a surprise, but one I’m happy to
“Mind yer tone, Grant,” Shamus snarled. “Ye are too newly weaned from yer mother’s
breast to be thinking ye can use that sort of voice with me.”
Symon reached up and tugged on the corner of his bonnet. Shamus grumbled, but turned
and began conversing with his captains.
The tension dissipated, the men watching them relaxing.
Everyone except for her.
Her father’s captain had a hand on Liam’s shoulder and was talking quietly in his
ear. Her father’s lips were pressed into a hard line, but she could see him beginning
That made her throat go dry.
It made sense, and would benefit all of the men and women watching, but it would mean
she had to be Bhaic MacPherson’s wife.
She couldn’t do it.
The thought chilled her, sending her back, away from the men deciding her future.
It was for all the right reasons, yet it horrified her.
Do nae be so selfish!
She had to maintain control, but it felt as though the tighter she closed her resolve
around her emotions, the more cracks they found to escape through. The very fabric
of her life was shredding, leaving her exposed and unprotected against the unknown.
Shamus MacPherson suddenly lifted his hand, and every man wearing his colors went
silent. Her father looked at him, and the Robertsons followed their laird’s lead.
“I was…overly harsh…in me comments about yer daughter’s dancing.”
Shamus looked as if the words had taken every bit of strength he could muster. He
drew in a huge breath when he was done, and wiped his forehead on his sleeve.
Ailis felt her jaw drop. She was frozen in silence as her father stiffened, looking
as though he was holding his breath. His face turned red before he gasped and replied,
“Yer clansmen are nae born with lies on their lips.”
The captain behind Shamus patted his laird on the shoulder, increasing his strength
until there was a soft “thud” every time his hand landed on the older man’s back.
“I’m getting to it,” Shamus snapped and sent his captain a hard look before picking
up his feet and stomping toward Liam with his hand extended.
Her father made him wait. His own captains were leaning into him, pressing him forward.
Liam Robertson held out until he stumbled forward beneath their weight. He ended up
facing Shamus and clasped his wrist.
The men watching let out a cheer. It was deafening, and echoed by the women looking
on from afar. There was suddenly music, pipers sounding as the fair resumed with a
fervor. The merchants applauded as her father roared, “I need me a drink, lads! And
something to wash it down with!”
Ailis was sure she needed one more than anyone else.
* * *
“I never thought to see the day,” Bhaic remarked.
Symon Grant was standing next to him as the Robertsons and MacPhersons celebrated
in joyful excess. Full hogsheads of ale were opened and drained. Men lined up to have
their mugs filled and then returned for another measure. As the ale flowed, the men
began to swing the women up and around. They practiced the art of hefting, by throwing
the women from man to man along a long line. The women squealed, and their eyes sparkled
“Neither did I,” Symon responded. “But ye were jealous of the little lass dancing
with Lye Rob and no mistake, me friend. I saw it with me own eyes.”
Bhaic sent a punch into Symon’s shoulder. “I was nae speaking of that.”
“Still trying to deny it?”
“Ye’re making too much of it,” Bhaic informed him.
“Now that’s a shame,” Symon responded, a smirk on his lips.
Bhaic shot him a hard look. “No, it is nae.”
Symon’s smirk widened into a smile, tempting Bhaic to punch him again.
“It’s a shame, because it looks as though ye will be taking yer wife home, and it
might be best if the two of ye liked each other. But”—he glanced around—“it looks
as if young Ailis has escaped ye, so it’s likely a fine thing that ye were nae jealous.
Otherwise, ye might take her absence as a personal rejection.”
Bhaic stiffened. He scanned the women, searching for Ailis.
All the good she’d done would be reduced to rubble if she didn’t appear at his side
when his father’s men mounted up to ride home.
The little fool.
He refused to allow her to destroy what had been built. The bridge between their fathers
was fragile, but with time, it would strengthen.
So his wife would just have to become accustomed to his company.
* * *
She just needed a moment.
Ailis moved back into the forest, seeking shelter.
It wasn’t something she had decided to do; it was some instinct that flickered to
life as she watched the celebration grow louder and louder.
Nothing came from nothing. Her father had raised her to know there was a price for
everything. Her throat felt as if it was swelling shut—she was the price being paid
for peace. Not that it should surprise her. She would be joining a long line of brides
sent to their clans’ enemies to stop bloodshed. It was a noble cause, one she agreed
with. But that didn’t stop her from feeling like a prize mare.
Ye’ll feel more like one when Bhaic gets the time to mount ye.
The worst part of that was the knowledge that she was just as interested as he was.
Oh, for Christ’s sake! Get a grip on yerself! What are ye? A lass of sixteen?
That thought sobered her. She was twenty-three and obviously ready to become a woman.
She drew in a deep breath and straightened her back. She was going back. Aye, back
to keep the bargain she’d struck.
“Ye do nae have to go with him.”
For a moment, she thought she imagined the words. But she turned her head and caught
Lye Rob coming through the forest.
“I was planning to try me hand at courting ye, but it seems I am going to have to
move forward to asking ye to wed me, Ailis Robertson.”
“I am already wed.” The words felt clumsy, but she held her chin steady.
Lye Rob shrugged, his lips set into a pleasant grin. “Me father has no liking for
the MacPhersons. He’s made it plain he would favor a match with ye. Do nae be so naive
as to think this bit of peace will be lasting. The Robertsons and MacPhersons have
been enemies for too long. Once the ale has been slept off, they will be fighting
again. If ye wed me, the Robertsons and Gordons will have the numbers to match the
It was a horrifying thought, packed with enough truth to nauseate her. Her choices
were clear, and she had to make the right one. “I am going with me husband.”
His expression remained cajoling, but something flickered in his eyes that chilled
her. It was cold and hard and very calculating. There was a crunch behind him, and
she noticed his retainers moving closer. She took a step back, and Lye Rob’s grin
faded into a hard line.
“Come with me, and I swear ye shall have time to consider me offer.” He offered her
his hand. “If ye go with Bhaic MacPherson, ye’ll be in his bed tonight.”
“Ye’ve got a clever way of twisting words, Lye Rob Gordon.”
Bhaic’s voice was menacing and coming from right behind her. Ailis jumped, but he’d
already reached for her, and she ran into his hand. Pain went through her shoulder,
stopping her retort.
“Ye say time to consider,” Bhaic said, “but what ye truly mean is ye will give her
until ye reach yer father’s holding.”
Lye Rob shrugged. “I did nae lie.”
Bhaic gripped her shoulder and pulled her behind him. She stumbled. Lye Rob was focused
on Bhaic, his men guarding his back.
“Mind ye,” Lye Rob said, “I’m glad to see ye. Wedding a widow is simpler than proving
her marriage to ye is unconsummated.” He pulled a dirk from the top of his boot. “It
will save me the trouble of making sure someone sees me fucking her.”
Her eyes rounded with horror. “Ye toad!”
The calculating glow in his eyes burned brightly. He tossed the knife from hand to
hand as he closed the distance between himself and Bhaic.
“Get to yer father’s side, Ailis,” Bhaic said.
“Now,” he ordered sternly.
He was a man accustomed to being obeyed. She backed up, but stopped when she realized
they were surrounded by Gordon retainers. More had closed in behind them while Lye
Rob distracted them. She bent down and picked up a branch—a thick, heavy one—and gripped
it as if it were a club.