Authors: Lucy Monroe
Tags: #Historical Romance, #love story, #warriors, #Paranormal Romance, #supernatural romance, #scotland, #Paranormal, #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Scottish, #Scotland Highlands, #wolves, #highlanders
She was sure of it.
She moved away, intent on finding Eadan and Marjory. He did not try to stop her again.
She pushed against the door, but it did not give. If Caelis were indeed telling the truth, then Audrey or Thomas must have dropped the bar into place on the other side. She appreciated her friends’ dedication to safety, but Shona
would not return to the guest room without confirming her children’s well-being.
She knocked softly on the door, knowing the siblings slept more lightly than even her son.
Only a few seconds passed before the door swung inward, revealing Thomas’s sleepy countenance.
“You wish to see the little ones,” he guessed.
Thomas stepped back and Shona moved into the room. The candle she carried casting a soft glow over the space, revealing the bedding on the floor where Thomas had obviously been resting. Beyond that was a bed similar to the one Shona had been sleeping in, but this one was a lot more crowded with Audrey in the middle and Eadan and Marjory on either side of her.
Audrey’s eyes were open, but she did not move. Obviously not wanting to disturb the children, she sent Shona a small smile of reassurance. Eadan shifted, making a soft noise, but he didn’t wake, proving just how exhausting the past sennights had been for him.
Shona did not speak, but simply sent a questioning glance to Audrey. The blond woman gave an infinitesimal nod, telling Shona all was well.
Thomas patted her on the shoulder. “We will waken you in the morning when they rise, if you are still sleeping.”
He spoke quietly, his mouth very near her ear.
She nodded, sending them both a grateful smile before going back into the hall. Caelis stood there, glowering at Thomas as Shona pulled the door closed behind her.
She turned to face the man she was quickly coming to view as her nemesis. “I cannot imagine what you find so objectionable about young Thomas, but he will grow into a fine warrior with great honor one day. You will stop glaring at him so.”
“He is already a man.”
“He is but nineteen.” Which admittedly was three years past the generally acknowledged advent into manhood, but
Thomas was still so
. Despite his own experiences to the contrary, he saw the world through eyes that believed in man’s goodness and inherent honor.
“He is almost a child.” Though she knew he would not thank her for saying so.
“He is too familiar with you.”
“He is my friend.”
Caelis appeared unmoved. “So he claimed earlier.”
The Chrechte are stronger than humans but not superior to them. They are brethren as the Faol are brethren to the Paindeal and the Éan.
he tone of Caelis’s voice implied he was no happier
about her friendship with Thomas than he was about the youth’s supposed
Shona gave a mental shrug. Caelis’s feelings were of little import to her. “It is true.”
She considered Audrey and Thomas the siblings her parents had never been blessed to provide her. Shona had never looked on them as servants as her husband and the rest of the household did.
“Does every male
you have whisper words into your ears as a lover would do?”
“You are daft. Thomas is no more lover-like than…than a
. He and Audrey are my dearest friends.” Shona’s only true friends, if she wanted to be honest about it.
Shona had allowed none but those two to breach the walls she’d built around her heart after this man’s betrayal and her parents’ rejection because of it. She’d felt the twins’ helplessness in the face of their fates being chosen for them by an uncaring father because it was so like her own.
Her father had cared, but he’d been equally certain he knew what was best, and forcing her into marriage with the baron had been at the top of that list.
“I owe them both a debt of honor for watching over you and the children.”
He’d said something like that before. It made no more sense to her now than it had earlier.
But she would make no attempt to disabuse him of the notion. If he felt some obligation to Audrey and Thomas, perhaps he would be more apt to help them find safety, if not Shona herself.
“I am going back to bed.” She turned to retrace her steps to her room.
“You are still tired?” he asked, keeping pace with her.
“No.” In fact, she was not, but she wasn’t about to wander the passageways of the sleeping keep, either.
“Then perhaps we can talk?” Caelis asked, sounding less demanding than she’d ever heard him.
Shona stopped at her door, looking up at the only male visage that had ever stirred desire in her.
Even now, after everything, her need for him was a low rumble in her belly. She’d been sure that part of her was dead, but one day in his company and she knew it was not. She wanted him as much as she ever had, but she would
Forcing the visceral need aside, she asked with no small amount of unbelief, “You wish to discuss the issues between us
, in the wee hours?”
“’Tis hardly appropriate behavior.” She shook her head. Not to deny him, but in wonder at his audacity.
“I do not concern myself with what is proper.”
“You never did.” But she’d thought he had the honor to make improper behavior right.
He had not.
“There was a time when you would have laughed at this English sense of propriety you seek to hide behind now.”
“I learned why proper behavior has its place.” As protection from what had happened to her, for one thing.
“Please, Shona. Hear me out.”
Honestly? She felt no inclination to do so, but she needed information on what Caelis planned to do now that he’d discovered he had a son. If he’d denied Eadan, all would be so simple. She would have gone to Balmoral Island as planned and thrown herself on the mercy of family relations—however tenuous.
But now Shona feared losing her son to his father as much as her flight from England had been spurred by her terror of losing Eadan to Percival’s evil machinations.
“You will not take my son from me,” she promised Caelis as she pushed the door to her chamber open.
“That is not my intention.”
She turned to face him, still on the threshold, not letting him into the room. “You mocked me once with words that did not match your actions; this time I will not be so easily fooled.”
“Let me explain,” Caelis said again, more plea than demand.
It was so unusual to hear the strong warrior speak thus, she found herself nodding and stepping back to allow him into the bedchamber.
There was a low boxlike chest against one wall and Shona used it to sit on, ignoring the very existence of the bed and hoping Caelis would do so as well.
She would have gone to the great hall, but she wanted someone to overhear her shame even less than she desired to be caught in a compromising position with Caelis.
“I find it odd you were sleeping outside my door,” she said as Caelis paced the room but did not start this grand explanation he had alluded to.
“I was not sleeping.”
“What were you doing then?”
“Guarding you.” Caelis stopped in front of her. “Fighting my need to come inside.”
She almost laughed. “You would have me believe that after you tossed me aside six years ago, your passions for me burn so bright they keep you up at night on vigil outside my room?”
’Twas ludicrous. If he’d been as afflicted by desire for her as she was him, he never would have repudiated her.
“I am not that naïve.” Did he think he had to lie to her to gain access to his son?
Why did he even want Eadan now, when Caelis had been so quick before to reject even the possibility she was pregnant?
Her thoughts whirled in her head like the most complicated court dance.
“Just stubborn.” He sighed, running his hand over his face. “I do not remember you being so stubborn
to give into him and that was her own shame to bear. At least he’d known her truly enough to realize it was in her nature to be obdurate with others.
When she didn’t dignify his words with a reply, he sighed again, looking quite put out. “I have been without physical comfort for six years. You married another.”
“First, I have absolutely no reason to believe you. And I don’t,” she inserted for good measure. “Second, you cannot call what transpired between the baron and myself
Not when the old man’s very touch made Shona’s skin crawl and he’d used her as the whore her mother had called her upon discovering Shona was with child with no suitor, much less husband, in sight.
“I do not want to hear about it,” Caelis said with deep feeling.
She had no intention of telling him anything about her life that he did not absolutely need to know. “Rest assured, you will not.”
“Marjory is his.”
Shona gave a single jerk of her head in acknowledgment.
“Eadan is mine.”
This time Shona merely stared, refusing to agree with or deny the statement.
“You would deny it?” Caelis accused, though she’d done no such thing.
“You were the one who told me that if I were pregnant then it would have to be by some other man.” Her fingers curled around the edges of the chest, the grip so hard she could feel her heartbeat in them. “Do you not remember?”
“I was angry at having to let you go. I took that fury out on you.” Guilt washed over his chiseled features. “I did not mean it. I was under orders to cease my attentions to you. I knew those words would push you away as nothing else would. Your loyalty and determination were too strong to give in otherwise.”
She did not know what he meant by orders to cease his attentions, though she could guess, but Caelis had been right about his methods. “You succeeded spectacularly in your efforts. I would have been content to live the rest of my days without seeing you again.”
Because she had wished so strongly for that claim to be reality, it came out with all the conviction her heart lacked.
The candle’s glow was not bright, but it illuminated enough of his handsome face to reveal the pain that crossed it and settled in his gentian gaze. “To my great regret.”
“I do not believe you.” Was it a lie if she wanted it to be true?
Again, he seemed surprised…even hurt…by her lack of faith in him.
“Our laird denied my request to mate you.” There was a ring of sincerity to his tone she could not ignore.
More important, the words rang true with the actions of the laird of her former clan. Uven was not a kind, or even just, man. He had his favorites among the clanspeople and they could expect his support and beneficence. Everyone else had had to sacrifice for the treasured few.
Uven’s own daughter often suffered at his hand, not that Caelis had ever believed it. While they’d had a near-idyllic
courtship before Caelis rejected her, the one area they never agreed on was the true nature of their laird.
Her lack of loyalty, as he called it, used to infuriate her then beloved warrior to no end.
Because, unlike her family, Caelis had never been shown the ugly side of the MacLeod laird.
“You are one of his favored,” she reminded Caelis.
She didn’t ask what had happened to change that. The very fact he was among the Sinclairs rather than their former clan spoke of a great breach between laird and vassal. And she did remember her former laird’s true ways. Nothing he did would have surprised her.
But some things were less likely than others. “You want me to believe that our laird refused one of his favored?”
“He did not think us a good match. He was adamant that you were not my mate.”
There was that word again, as if they were animals, but it didn’t matter what Caelis called it. Mate, wife or even beloved, none of the titles fit her place in his life. They never had, no matter how much she had once wished to believe otherwise.
“He did not think I was good enough for you.” She’d not understood why the laird had such antipathy toward some of his clan, but the fact could not be denied.
He’d believed Shona’s family beneath his notice and replacing her father as seneschal had only been one of many slights against them.
Caelis did not deny her interpretation of events.
She sighed. “And this is your grand explanation?”
Caelis jerked, his eyes widening and then going narrow as if her reaction surprised him. “I had no choice but to deny you.”
“You had a choice. You could have left the clan when we did.”
“The laird would never have given permission for me to leave.”
“And yet here you are.” Living among another clan but still wearing the colors of the MacLeod.
Perhaps the breach was not as great as she’d first thought. In truth, there might not be any breach at all, no matter what Caelis claimed.
The sense of despondency that gave her made no sense and she chose to ignore it.