Authors: Charlotte Boyett-Compo
“What’s your problem, woman?” Conar growled.
Catherine turned her attention back to Conar, immediately on the defensive with his tone.
“Did I say I had a problem?” she snapped.
Conar snorted. “You didn’t need to. If your upper lip gets any higher, you’ll be able to pick your nose with it.”
Yuri gasped, shocked at the ugly, childish taunt. He felt the woman behind stiffen him and grunted in dismay. Here we go again, he thought and prepared to reach for her should she decide to fly at the man.
“You are a vulgar man,” Catherine told the Prince. “You go beyond the reaches of decency.”
“Well, my life wasn’t complete until I met you, either, baby!” Conar shot back.
“Any change would be an improvement, I’m sure!” she flung at him.
He knew an indefinable hunger to hurt her as she had hurt him. The need was a desperate, relentless ache that made his heart pound. He could barely tolerate the sharp-tongued bitch. Her snide remarks cut him to the quick for even after all these years, he was still ultra-sensitive about the ugly scars which ravaged his cheek. The pain in his soul those scars had caused him was healing, slowly, very slowly, but he doubted if he would ever feel whole again. No one dared to mention the scars to him for they knew how such a reminder pained him.
And he was confused by the bitch’s attitude toward him. No woman had ever really ignored him in his life. No woman had ever showered him with one insult after insult. And meant them.
He found he didn’t like it.
Not one bit.
And he intended to squash her once and for all. His male stubbornness and sense of masculine pride made it impossible for him to know when to leave well enough alone, and the little boy in him was egging him on to strike back.
He had never garnered the reputation as a forgiving soul. As a matter of record, he was considered to be an extremely vindictive enemy to make.
And this little fat cow was about to find out just how bad an enemy Conar McGregor could really be.
Catherine had been studying the different looks that were crossing the man’s face as he looked past Yuri to glare at her. First she saw a trace of surprise when he opened the door, then anger, then a boyish glee at beginning their confrontation again. Now she was seeing calculation on that striking face, retaliation, revenge. He was thinking of ways to get back at her and she was game. Never let it be said that Marie Catherine, the Cat to her friends, ever backed down from a fight--one-sided or not! She lifted her chin and smiled.
“Your turn,” she whispered.
“What do you want?” he asked, sensing now was not the time to hit back at her. Let her wait, give her time to lose her edge, not to be prepared for his out and out assault. Put a few days distance between them until he could zap her with something that would cripple her.
“At my mother’s insistence, I am here to apologize about my remark concerning your face.
My parents, and brothers, do not wish you to be upset with them over this incident.” Her tone was regal, nothing in it hinting of true contrition.
“Oh, I’m well aware of where to lay the blame,” Conar retorted. “Your mouth is your worst enemy, baby.”
“I speak the truth as I see it,” she defended. “If you take exception to it, that’s too bad!”
“You open your mouth and shit comes out,” he shot back. “But I don’t suppose you can help being illiterate.”
“Just as you can not help it if you are deformed,” she said and could have groaned.
She had not meant to say that. She was about to apologize for saying such a thing when she saw a rapid flow of emotions beginning to cross Conar McGregor’s face.
His look was confused, then hurt, then humiliated, then angry, closely followed by determination and finally swift retaliation.
“Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?” he stormed at her. He took a step forward only to have Yuri block his way.
Catherine, unaccustomed to being asked such a thing for everyone knew who SHE was, said the first thing that came to mind.
“I am the Tzarevna ....”
Conar guffawed. “What comes to mind when I say, I don’t give a shit? I am the king of Serenia!”
“You are not!” Catherine hissed. “You were disinherited.”
“Does, too! I am a true Tzarevna. I could be Tzarina one day! As such, you would be subject to my command!”
Conar’s snort left no doubt what he thought of that.
“If you stay here,” she informed him, “you are honor bound to heed my orders, prince Conar.”
The dark sapphire eyes narrowed dangerously. “And am I suppose to jump when you tell me to?”
Catherine pushed Yuri aside and took a step toward her nemesis. “All you need to do is ask how high I want your big feet off the ground!”
Conar stepped forward until he was nose to nose with the bellowing wench. “And if I don’t?”
he purred, true menace in his silky tone.
She actually came close enough so their bodies were touching. She stared at him, unafraid of the heat and the warning making his body rigid. In a voice as soft as the kiss of dew, she answered his taunt.
“If you don’t, I’ll have you hobbled where you can’t move at all!”
She wasn’t prepared for the hard hand that snaked out to cup the back of her neck and drag her face close enough to Conar McGregor’s that she could see his pores. There was absolute fury on his face and his nostrils were flaring with his anger.
“You are hurting me!” she ground out from between her clenched teeth. His hands on her neck were painful, but the touch she found something else again.
“I want it to hurt,” he shot back. He was staring down into eyes that weren’t hazel after all but a cross between green and yellow.
“No one has ever dared to touch me the way you dare to touch me,” she warned in a breathless voice.
Her hair was a silky touch of pale brown and silver moonlight, he thought as his hold on her neck loosened just enough to lessen the pain pinching her face. In a voice as sweet as molasses, and just as slow, he scanned her face and told her,
“I doubt if any man has ever wanted to touch you the way I want to.”
“Even if I do not wish to have you, of all men, to touch me so?” she answered, wishing with all her heart she hadn’t said that, for he instantly released his grip.
Conar looked at Yuri then returned his regard to her. Catherine was surprised to see real hurt and wounded pride in those stunning blue orbs. She’d really hurt him that time, insulted him beyond the game they had been playing with one another, humiliated him before another man.
She could tell he was trying to hide his hurt quickly behind a hastily-erected facade of blandness in his expression. She watched as his gaze flickered away to settle once more on Yuri, and wondered why actually hurting him suddenly made her feel petty and small.
“Take your mistress to her quarters, Yuri,” Conar said in a quiet voice. “She has made her apology. I accept. Make sure her parents understand that.”
He gently pushed Catherine from his room and then firmly shut the door in her face.
Yuri let out a long breath. He’d seen pain in Conar McGregor’s eyes many times. But he would never get use to it.
He looked down at Catherine and frowned.
“Did you have to do that?”
Slowly she looked up at the warrior. Yuri was stunned to see tears in those pretty orbs.
“What happened to him, Yuri?” she asked, her lower lip trembling.
“You insulted him beyond belief,” Yuri responded.
Catherine angrily shook her head. “No! Not that.” She swiped at a tear. “What happened to his face?”
Yuri frowned. “You must ask your father such questions, Highness.”
“It wasn’t an accident, was it?” she persisted. “Someone did that to him, didn’t they?” She swallowed a lump in her throat. “On purpose?”
“I do not believe so, but you must ask your father.” Yuri knew he was treading on dangerous ground here and his eyes became hooded. “I am not all that familiar with His Grace’s personal history.” That wasn’t exactly true, but Yuri didn’t think he had the right to tell the young woman of Conar McGregor’s painful past.
My Sweet Meggie,
I hope this finds you and Harry well. By now I would imagine you are well ensconced at the keep. I still don’t understand why you wanted to take on such a massive obligation at your
‘advanced’ age ..... ha-ha .... but it is a relief for me to know the two of you are safe and well cared for by my family. Or what’s left of it.
The Outer Kingdom is all right, I guess, but it ain’t home. I miss Serenia’s Alps and desert lands. I miss the sea and the forests. I miss seeing the farmers trudging into town with their produce on Farm Day. And, of course, I miss you most of all. I haven’t found a lady to care for me the way you always have although I’ve found one who delights in annoying the hell out of me. The woman is beginning to piss me off, fat pig that she is.
The Tzar’s family has treated me like one of their own since my arrival here a week ago.
They are very informal here at the keep and I was really happy to find out that I could eat in the kitchen with the staff if I was so inclined. I was relieved to know they were not going to treat me with the ‘respect’ due my station in life. I’m just one of the gang, so to speak. I much prefer it that way than having to dress formally for dinner in my uniform (although I am glad you overruled me and insisted I bring it along). The damned thing certainly impressed the Tzarina, although that sow of a daughter of hers, Marie something-or-the-other, snickered at it. I do believe the woman is mentally incompetent.
I’m not really trying to make any close friends here yet. I don’t feel up to the burden of that.
The royal sons are nice enough guys, though, and I wouldn’t mind doing a few things with them.
The eldest, Peter, is as bookish as my brother, Coron. He is in charge of the keep’s day to day management. The youngest, Mikel, seems to be a carbon copy of Dyllon, although I haven’t seen that much of him. He’s just beginning his military training with the warriors here as is his duty as the Tzar’s son.
As for the women, the Tzarina, that’s the equivalent of our Queen, seems to be a very nice lady. Her daughters, with the exception of that damned older one, are very polite and well-mannered. They remind me too much of how Liza’s three younger sisters were for me to want to be around them much. It hurts too much still.
I don’t want to be around that elder one, either, because the woman’s a horrid bore.
My trip over was interesting and I can’t wait to tell you about it. They have a thing called a fog horn, a sea creature whose roar is terribly frightening, but I wasn’t affected by it. Its howl wasn’t nearly as grating as the snipping voice of this elder daughter here. The woman’s voice is enough to make a man deaf if he listens to it long enough, which I don’t intend to do.
The countryside is similar to ours although their buildings are rather unimpressive and ugly
.... nothing here to compare to the magnificence of Boreas Keep. It rains quite often here where I am, in country as they call it. The fog is atrocious, worse than ours.
I didn’t tell you about my first meeting with the Tzar, did I? It was in his reading room where he goes every afternoon for tea. We sat before a cheery fire and chatted as though we were old friends. He gave me free reign of his palace and told me all I need do is ask and it will be given.
(I almost asked for apple dumplings, but was afraid they wouldn’t live up to yours).
At least they don’t stand on ceremony here, as I’ve told you. I find that refreshing. It takes some of the worry out of me that I would have to endure court and all that while I’m here. At the Tzar’s insistence, I can just be myself and relax, get all the bad memories out of my system. I have so little to do here I can walk about the gardens (they aren’t nearly as pretty as ours) or just WINDBELIEVER
sit quietly and think. I don’t find such inactivity boring at all. Unfortunately, I’ve had to endure the unasked for company of that woman on occasion, but I am soon able to send her away with a few well chosen words.
That’s my news for now. I’ll write again next week. I’m having trouble finding a way to get my letters out so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me as often as I promised. The letters will get there to you. They just might take a few weeks to a month to do so.
Give my best to Harry, swat Dorrie on the rump for me, and remember I love you.
P.S. I don’t know when I’ll be coming home, but you’ll be the first to know.
P.P.S. I’d rather you not share my letters with anyone at the keep except Harry and ask him not to talk about them either.
Four months to the day after Conar McGregor sent his letter by messenger to Boreas Keep, Meggie Ruck sat in her rocker beside the fire in her bedroom and nodded as she read the contents of the hastily-scrawled note. She turned her cocked brow to her husband and grinned.
“He’s found him a woman, Harry.”
By now you know where I am and I am sure you aren’t pleased. I hope you understand I had an obligation to these people for all the loyalty the Outer Kingdom has shown me since the Labyrinth. When they invited me to their homeland to meet their monarchy, I jumped at the chance. I knew, if you had any idea where I intended to go, you would have had half the Serenian militia at my heels as bodyguards, and that I did not want nor need. It took four months to reach the coastal town of St. Steffensburg.