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Authors: Kimberly Killion

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BOOK: Taming a Highland Devil
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Cursing himself, he pivoted on his heel and left.

Her cries echoed out the top of the doocot and filled him with self-destructive afflictions.

Mam would have her heir.

Ian Mackay would have his alliance.

And Magnus prepared to face the next chapter of his life—war.

Chapter Seven

Effie was no stranger to grief, but losing Magnus to Vanna combined the suffering of death with the jagged edges of envy. ’Twas as if she’d swallowed a dozen thistles. Everything stung—her eyes, her throat, her heart.

“Think ye can wait another day to travel, m’lady?” Sylvie stuffed an undertunic into Effie’s satchel and awaited her answer with hope-filled eyes.

Effie shook her head and wrapped her
arisaid
around her shoulders. She couldn’t stay another night at Dunrobin. ’Twas enough she was leaving her heart behind. “My brother has already sent his seneschal to ready the horses.”

“Then at least promise me ye will visit.”

“Ye know I cannot make such a promise.” Keeping her eyes downcast, Effie gathered the last of her belongings then embraced Sylvie in a long hug. “Thank ye for being my friend.”

Sylvie’s frail body convulsed with upset, causing a fresh rush of tears to roll over Effie’s cheeks. She hated that she’d befriended this woman. She hated that she’d allowed herself to think she could have called Dunrobin home. But mostly, she hated that she’d been naïve enough to believe she could have been Magnus’ wife.

Sylvie released her, sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Mayhap I’ll come visit ye then. After the first thaw.”

“I would like that verra much.” Effie drew a jagged breath, hooked arms with Sylvie and stepped into the darkened corridor. A pitch-pine torch glowing in the stairwell cast a shadow over a figure looming outside Vanna’s door.

Magnus.

For the briefest of moments Effie’s muscles locked, then the figure stood upright and rushed toward them.

Lady Jocelyn’s face came into view—pale, wide-eyed, frantic. “Lady Reay, I must speak to ye at once.”

Uncertain if her nerves could survive another upset, Effie clung to Sylvie for support. “What is it?”

“’Tis something I’ve suspected since shortly after your arrival, but I was hesitant to say anything,” the woman replied in hushed tones then paused to glance over her shoulder. “Because I care for Laird Sutherland’s well-being, I had the maids report to me the comings and goings of both ye and your sister.”

This didn’t surprise Effie. S’truth, she would have done the same. “Go on.”

“Your sister has been ill every morn since your arrival.”

“She is with child,” Effie responded through clenched teeth.

Jocelyn gave Effie a patronizing look. “Lady Reay, we both know the illness that burdens a woman in the early months of childbearing does not come so quickly.”

“What are ye insinuating?”

“I’m suggesting that your sister was with child before she came to Dunrobin. I suspect your brother knew, which is why he risked life and limb to travel two months sooner than planned.”

Effie focused on the sliver of yellow light lining the bottom of Vanna’s door. Jocelyn was speculating. Vanna would have told Effie. Wouldn’t she? If Vanna was carrying another man’s child, then…

’Twas impossible not to let her hopes soar at the possibilities.

“Lady Reay,” Jocelyn prompted Effie when she failed to respond. “The child your sister is carrying does not belong to Laird Sutherland.”

A fierce pounding knocked between her ears. A pounding she quickly realized was her heart. She shook her head, trying to sort through the deluge of thoughts now racing through her mind.

“If ye deny the possibilities, then ye are a fool.” Jocelyn grabbed Effie’s elbows and shook her. “Laird Sutherland loves ye and—”

“Please, cease!” Effie jerked out of Jocelyn’s hold, desperate to protect her heart. “None of this changes Vanna’s condition. Her child will need a namesake.” Effie pushed past Jocelyn, needing to process all that she’d said, but the adamant woman followed her.

“Then mayhap she should marry the man who sired her child. Whoever he is, he’s in the guest solar with your sister now.”

Effie stopped. Her heart beat so wildly she grew lightheaded. If what Jocelyn said was true, Effie could have Magnus, but she would have to name Vanna a whore to get him.

Jocelyn laid a sympathetic hand on Effie’s forearm. “I know what ’tis like to be torn from the one ye love. If ye care for Magnus at all, then dinnae walk away. Dinnae let her win.”

Effie stared at Jocelyn. The scared coward inside her urged her to leave and never look back, but the woman who’d won the love of a Highland warrior demanded she expose the truth.

She nodded, inhaled a breath of strength and took the steps that put her in front of Vanna’s door. Muffled groans hummed through Effie’s ears and called upon her maternal instincts. ’Twas past time Vanna took responsibility for her actions. Effie no longer cared that her sister was of noble blood. It didn’t matter if the father was a lowly peasant. The man would have to answer to her, as well as Ian.

Effie flung the door open without knocking and the sight before her nearly sent her into a swoon.

Vanna lay naked on her back in a pile of disheveled covers, while Ian thrust wildly between her spread legs.

“Oh my God in heaven!” The musky scent of sex attacked Effie’s senses. She covered her mouth with both hands to hold back the vomit stinging the back of her throat. Shock didn’t begin to describe the emotions rushing through her mind and body. She was mortified, disgusted, enraged.

“Effie!” Ian lurched off Vanna and quickly draped his undertunic over his head. “I thought ye left.”

Vanna shrieked and covered herself with the bedding.

“Mary, Margaret and Moses,” Sylvie whispered in the background. “’Tis incest.”

Hands fisted, nails digging into her palms, Effie turned her full fury on her brother. “This is beyond repulsive. She is your sister!”

Ian shook his head, held his hands out, palms up. “We both know Da dinnae sire her.”

’Twas true Effie had questioned Vanna’s parentage. After all, Besse had been nothing more than an unpaid whore.

“Look at her, Effie.” Ian rushed on. “Besse was fair and blonde. Da shared our red coloring.”

“This is your justification?” Effie was sickened by his argument. It didn’t matter if Vanna wasn’t his blood kin, he’d been a brother to her for all of her nineteen years. “How long have ye—?” She couldn’t say the words. ’Twas blasphemous.

“Since Da died.” Ian blew a heavy breath and lowered his pale lashes. Shame pulled his face downward. “Vanna comforted me. We comforted each other.”

Da’s death had affected Ian in ways Effie couldn’t comprehend, but this—this was monstrous. She held no sympathy for him or Vanna for that matter. “In
comforting
one another, did ye get her with child? Is that why we were forced to travel in the dead of winter to Dunrobin, so ye could trick Laird Sutherland into claiming your bastard child?”

Ian glared at her. His nostrils widened, but he held his tongue. His silence was as much an admittance of guilt as any words he might have spoken.

“If the child she carries is yours, then ye will act accordingly and marry her.”

“Nay!” Vanna sat up taller in the bed. Her slender brows wrinkled with upset. “I am marrying Laird Sutherland.”

Effie snorted. The girl was delusional if she thought for one moment Effie would let her sink her claws back into Magnus.

“I cannae marry her,” Ian protested. “I will be a disgrace to my clan.”

“Ye will be a disgrace to your clan either way.” If Ian thought she would keep this secret, he was sorely mistaken.

“Damn ye, Effie!” Ian raked his fingers through his copper-colored hair. “We will lose the alliance.”

The web Ian wove ran a jagged path, but the alliance was far from lost. Beneath the horror of this transgression lay a victory for Effie.

I’m eager to announce our union.
It was Magnus’ words as well as his image in her mind that empowered her to stand up to Ian. “My marriage to Laird Sutherland will secure the alliance and protect our borders, but there will be no war, Ian. Our families have seen enough bloodshed.”

Ian said nothing more, but Effie knew this battle was far from over. He wouldn’t rest until he’d avenged Da’s death.

For now, Effie wanted rid of them. “Take Vanna and go home. I dinnae wish to see either of ye until spring.”

With her head held high, she raised her skirts and exited the guest solar with Jocelyn and Sylvie at her sides. They followed her like the queen’s minions down the stairwell and through the main corridor toward the Great Hall.

Jocelyn was the first to break the silence. “What do ye intend to do now, m’lady?”

Effie smiled at both of them. “I’m going to find my betrothed.”

Chapter Eight

Rage filled Magnus with such venom, he was certain he would choke on it. He’d never hated himself more than he did this day. The Devil of Dunrobin had finally paid for his lecherous ways and there was naught he could do but wallow in his suffering—and fight.

A morning sun warmed the top of his head as he circled one of his warriors inside the training ring. The side of Magnus’ face stung and his ribs felt bruised and broken, but he didn’t look half as bad as his other kinsmen standing outside the stone boundary. With bloodied noses and colored eyes, they cheered on his current opponent.

Gunner slowly stood upright and drew his sleeve over his bloody mouth. The man stood a head taller than Magnus and was twice as wide, but he was no match for Magnus this day. None of his warriors had been.

“Where’s your fight, warrior?” Magnus taunted, welcoming the fray. “Come at me, ye bluidy ox.”

Gunner snarled, raised his broadsword and charged Magnus like the bull he was. Gunner brought his blade down on Magnus, but he blocked the strike. The clash of steel shrieked through his ears, but didn’t deafen the memory of Effie’s cries.

Blood rushed through his veins, his head, his heart. Sweat chilled his skin, but his fury remained thick and unyielding like a disease he would never be rid of. He widened his stance and thrust the tip of his sword, but stopped a hairsbreadth short of Gunner’s chest when the dunderheid failed to block.

The man lurched back, fell flat onto his backside and dropped his weapon like all those before him. His surrender only provoked Magnus’ temper.

“Ye will die if ye cannae wield your sword, man. Stand up and face me.”

“Cease!” The order came from the distance, but was loud, demanding and female.

His men separated, forming an aisle, and out of the masses of hulk and muscle appeared the woman who’d forever changed his world. Her presence both weakened his knees and turned his nerves to taut strings of iron. He was cautious, yet a part of him dared to hope she was not completely lost to him.

Effie pushed her wild red locks from her face, then stepped inside the training ring and narrowed her eyes on Gunner. “Bring me your weapon, warrior.”

The man obeyed quickly, setting his sword in Effie’s palm.

She then turned furious green eyes on Magnus. “Is this how ye behave when ye dinnae get your way?”

Magnus couldn’t begin to know her intentions, but he answered her nonetheless. “I have suffered a great loss.”

“And this gives ye the right to treat your kinsmen like your enemy?” She circled him, dragging the tip of the sword through the dirt.

“We are training.” Confused, Magnus shook his head. “Why have ye come here, Effie?”

“It seems I’ve come to save your kinsmen from your wicked temper.” Effie made a sweeping gesture toward the keep. “Ye are dismissed. All of ye.”

Uncle Frazier chuckled and motioned for Magnus’ seneschal to assist him. “Ye heard the woman. We are dismissed.”

Magnus’ brows popped up. “Ye are not dismissed until I say ye are dismissed.”

“Go!” Effie hollered at his men, which sent them scurrying like scolded bairns. She then rest the broadsword atop her shoulder and shot Magnus a look he’d not yet seen her wear. She cocked her head and arced one brow high above her eye. “If ye are intent on dying, then I shall behead ye here and now and be done with it.”

BOOK: Taming a Highland Devil
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