Authors: His Wicked Promise
“She’s leaving,” the lad whispered.
Cameron had sought him out in the great hall last…
Each day took them further south toward the Borderlands. It…
The realization tumbled through her mind.
As luck would have it, Egan was one of the…
Seeing Simon that day somehow solidified something deep within Glenda.
In all her days, Glenda had kissed no other man…
When Glenda arose the next morning, her head was pounding.
In truth, Egan could not say what came over him.
There was little rest to be found that night. Glenda…
I do not want your seed.
What had she done! God in heaven, she’d meant him…
There was something dangerous about him just now, something reckless…
Glenda had hoped he would make this easy for her.
Summer came to Blackstone Keep with days of warmth and…
Did she love him?
Glenda tore across the uneven ground as fast as she…
When Glenda roused the next morning, he was gone. She…
With Cameron and Brodie’s departure, it was as if all…
As Egan left the smithy’s hut, the clang of metal…
You were the only one I ever wanted.
Glenda’s recovery from the birth was not as swift as…
“Stop!” The word whistled quietly through Egan’s teeth. He reined…
With summer nigh, the days had begun to grow longer…
Dunthorpe Keep, Scotland Early 1200s
“She’s leaving,” the lad whispered.
“Nae, Drummond,” scoffed the thin-faced lad next to him. “Me mum said she won’t leave. She won’t go back to…to—”
“Blackstone Tower,” supplied Drummond, the elder of the pair who perched behind the tooth-shaped crags of the high stone wall that overlooked the chapel. A dirt-stained hand pointed toward the forest. “’Tis there, far yonder in the Borders. My da told me so.”
“The Borders,” repeated Gordon, a wide-eyed, scruffy-haired lad of ten. “But there are thieves in the Borderlands. Thieves and”—his voice plunged to a whisper—“and Englishmen.”
Drummond’s mouth turned down. “Aye, you are right. Thieves,” he repeated, his air clearly disdainful.
The sweet scent of wild flowers drifted through the air. Far afield, a hound bayed, and three horsemen followed the animal in fervent pursuit. But it was not
the excitement of the hunt that claimed the two lads’ attention. Instead they peered over the high stone wall toward the pair of women who sat on a blanket far below. Clinging tendrils of ivy climbed ever upward to where the lads strained to hear their voices.
“My aunt says the mistress will miss Glenda terribly if she leaves. Glenda cured the ache in my tooth, y’know. What if it should return?” Gordon’s tone had turned mournful. “’Twill be a sad day if Glenda leaves us.”
Such was true, not just for the young lad Gordon, but for many…including the woman to whom the boys referred. For in truth, the thought of leaving the home Glenda had known for these past eight years roused a piercing sadness in her…yet it was forged by a resolution she could not forsake.
For this was a task that was hers alone—and the decision had been hers alone to make.
“So. You will go to Blackstone Tower.”
Meredith, wife to Cameron, chieftain of the Clan MacKay, repeated the words Glenda had uttered but a moment earlier.
“I will,” Glenda said simply.
The brightness of the warm spring sun reflected in Meredith’s hair, turning it into a bright halo of fire around her head. She tipped her head to the side and regarded Glenda. “You will not be swayed from this course, will you?”
Glenda shook her head. “I fear not, Meredith. My father and my uncle are dead. I doubt my sister’s husband would consent to moving Eleanora and their children from Ireland. Of a certainty I cannot ask her to leave her family.”
Meredith’s reminder was gentle. “But
are your family now, Glenda.”
Glenda smiled slightly at the flame-haired beauty. Aye, she
a MacKay, for she had married Niall, eldest son of Ronald, the clan chieftain, more than eight years ago. She had shared the clan’s many joys in that time, as well as the crippling grief when Ronald and six of his sons had been slain by the Munro clan…
Among them was Niall.
It was a day that would haunt her forever. A day that had wrought not just one blow, but two…
Taking a deep breath, Glenda wrested her mind from the empty bleakness of those days…and every day since. “Aye, I am a MacKay, just as you are now, Meredith. Yet Blackstone Tower is where I spent my childhood. ’Tis different in the Lowlands—different than the clan way—the Highland way. With my father and my uncle gone, with my sister Eleanora and her husband so far away, there is no one left but me. I fear that if I remain here, if I do not step forward and Blackstone Tower were to fall into ruin, my poor father would surely turn over in his grave.”
Before she could explain further, there was a high-pitched shriek across the bailey. Both women turned their heads toward the sound, in time to see Brodie Alexander MacKay crawl out from beneath the skirts of Myrna, the washerwoman. In an instant the lad had scrambled to his feet. He darted to the left, sending the chickens scattering and squawking before him.
“Now, there’s a rogue who likes the ladies—och, and but two years old!” someone called out.
The laughing jest roused the attention of the lad’s father, who stood near the stables, talking to a groom. His head came up and Cameron groaned.
“Brodie! Brodie Alexander! Come here, you scamp!”
He took off in pursuit of his son. As if the child knew precisely how to elude his father, Brodie ducked under the hay cart, which sat idle.
Cameron dropped down on his belly and peered beneath the cart.
“Brodie! Come here, lad.”
Brodie giggled and stretched out a chubby hand. “Come hide with me, Papa!” he demanded.
Cameron sighed. “I cannot fit beneath the cart as you can, lad.”
“Another time, laddie. For now, please come out.”
It took no small amount of pleading and cajoling before the child crawled out. The instant he was snatched high in his father’s strong arms, Brodie planted a wet, noisy kiss on the broad sweep of his father’s bristly cheek.
Spying his wife, Cameron strode toward her, ruffling hair as dark as his own before carefully easing the boy into his mother’s lap.
“Can you not teach your son some manners, lady?”
Glenda looked on as the chieftain of the Clan MacKay dropped a kiss on his wife’s nose.
son?” A slender brow rose askance. “I but gave you the son you demanded of me, sirrah, and now you would complain!”
“And I but gave you the daughter you demanded of
, wife—and most insistently, as I recall, which
our daughter, love?”
“Sleeping most soundly, my lord.” Shifting slightly that he might see, Meredith lifted a corner of the plaid that lay between the two women, revealing the crown of a tiny oval-shaped head swept by the gauziest layer of silky blond hair.
Cameron’s features grew soft. He shifted his gaze to his wife, whose lips now carried the faintest of smiles. Their eyes met and meshed, both Cameron’s and Meredith’s. And in that moment spanned by aught but a breath, Glenda watched as something passed between them—an enormous pride, a bond that only two who shared the creation of a child could share.
An odd sensation pierced Glenda’s breast. Mayhap it was wrong, but she could not help it. Though Glenda dearly loved Cameron and Meredith, there were times—times like now—when she saw the pair together with their children, and it hurt to be near them. She could not banish a twinge of envy. For it was at once a feeling she had never truly experienced…and a feeling she understood in full measure.
Dimly she heard their light-hearted banter. “Ah,” Cameron groaned, “but I should have known. So tiny in size, yet still she mocks me, this daughter of mine. For she sleeps the sleep of the undisturbed, the sleep which forsakes her father night after night.”
“The sleep which forsakes her father…what, do you protest? Most certainly she did not wake you last night. Indeed, while I agree she shows no signs of forsaking her nourishment, the last three nights you’ve sounded like the veriest hog in the pens as she takes it!”
“Not I, madam,” he returned mildly.
“’Twas you indeed, sir.”
“Mayhap you heard the snores of the soldiers sleeping in the bailey, the ones who drank a dram too many last eve.”
“I heard most distinctly the snores of the man who lay beside me!”
Glenda summoned a faint smile. Ah, but the path of fate was unpredictable, she decided reflectively, for who would have foreseen that Cameron would fall in love with Meredith of the Clan Munro? The MacKays had feuded with the Munroes for generations. Yet ’twas only these last few years that the feud had been set aside—for the most part, at least—and now Meredith and Cameron had both son and daughter. Indeed, their daughter Aileen had been born but a fortnight earlier!
Hands placed boldly on his hips, Cameron had planted himself squarely before his wife. “We shall settle this later, my love. For now, before our son decided to make his usual mischief, I could not help but note you appeared gravely serious.”
The laughter faded from Meredith’s eyes. “I was indeed.” Her gaze flitted to Glenda, who bit her lip rather guiltily.
Cameron blinked. “What is this? Why, ’tis Glenda who is usually your champion, not your tormentor!” Cameron spoke only half in jest. “Indeed, if not for her, I might never have come to my senses and married you!”
As a sudden breeze arose, lifting a strand of the reddish hair from Meredith’s temple, Cameron bent down to tuck the lock behind his wife’s ear.
Cameron frowned. “The sun has shifted to the west and it grows chill here, love. Why do we not move to the solar and continue this discussion?” he suggested. “Glenda, would you take Aileen?”
His hands carefully solicitous, Cameron assisted his wife to her feet. Glenda obligingly reached for Aileen, settling the infant into the curve of her arm as she straightened. Oh, but it felt so right to hold a wee one snug against her breast! As if she knew exactly what was in her mind, the child in her arms stirred. Her cheek plump and flushed with sleep, her body warm, the babe yawned and nuzzled her breast. Her tiny little mouth made sucking motions, yet Aileen slept on.
Anguish ignited deep within her chest. A branding of the soul, a burning of the heart. A thousand times she’d battled this feeling when she’d held Brodie…and now with Aileen. Glenda could have screamed with the wrench of pain that ripped at her insides, a pain that left no outward sign, no bruises. Holding a child in her arms—especially a bairn so new to the world—brought mixed emotions. The longing she was usually so adept at controlling rushed to the fore.
The soft, musical notes of Meredith’s voice reached her ears. Only then did she realize that Meredith awaited her daughter. For the space of a moment, conflict raged deep within Glenda. Her arms were reluctant to release the slumbering bairn, yet a part of her was almost anxious to surrender the child to her mother’s waiting arms. Memories battered her, memories of Niall and the son she’d borne…
With a deep breath, she laid Aileen in her mother’s arms.
“Such a lamb,” Meredith murmured.
“Aye,” Glenda agreed. “Like her brother.” For indeed, it was true. Brodie had been the sweetest tempered of babes, never fussing or fretting, crying only when he was hungry or wet.
At that precise moment, Brodie slipped a chubby hand into Glenda’s. Glenda smiled down at the lad as his parents crossed the bailey. Her heart twisted as they entered the great hall. She sought to will away the feelings tearing at her chest. Life was hard, she told herself as they mounted the stairs. Many a child never lived to adulthood. They succumbed to disease, she reminded herself as she stepped into the solar, or the harshness of life. But for Glenda it had never been easy to accept.
She seated herself on the wooden bench perched against the wall, then pulled Brodie onto her lap. Burying her face in the silky dark strands of the lad’s hair, she couldn’t help but wonder…what would her own son have looked like? Would his hair have lightened to the same sun-kissed henna as his father’s? Would his eyes have been golden as her own, or as green as the misty hills of the Borderlands…as green as his father’s? Would he have been small and stout? Tall, with gangly limbs, like Niall? Would he have been full of playful deviltry and laughter? Ah, but had he been here, he might be even now playing in the bailey, with his cousin Brodie chasing after him.
It was hard, knowing that never again would she hold her own.
Swallowing the ache in her throat, she saw that Meredith had placed the babe in her cradle. With a rustle of her skirts, Meredith turned to face her husband, who had taken the seat before the fire.
“Now,” Cameron said with an arch of his brow. “Would someone please tell me what is amiss?”
Glenda raised her head. “There is naught amiss,” she said softly. “’Tis simply that I have decided I must return to Blackstone Tower.”
For the longest time Cameron said nothing. Glenda had the feeling she’d startled him. Brodie had slipped from her grasp to play with several small clay balls beneath the shuttered window. Cameron’s gaze never left her. Dark brows knit together almost fiercely, he stroked the squareness of his jaw with his right hand, a gesture that reminded her piercingly of Niall, for in just such a way her Niall had been wont to ponder.
She could not stop it. She could not
it. Niall’s visage swam before her, squeezing her insides like a giant vise…
“I see,” Cameron said slowly. His gaze was steady on her face. “But I wonder, Glenda…do you go by choice”—a faint pause—“or by duty?”
Glenda took a deep breath. “Does it matter?”
“Nay.” An unsaying resolution echoed in the word. “Not if it is truly what you wish.”
The ache was back in her throat. “It is,” she said, horrified to hear her voice wobble, then all at once feeling compelled to explain.
“In these last three days since I received word that Uncle is dead, I’ve thought of little else. My father would have been horrified were Blackstone Tower to
fall into someone else’s hands. I—I cannot let that happen. So you see, the duty is mine…as well as the choice.”
Once again Cameron said nothing.
Glenda took a deep breath. “I pray you will not discourage me, Cameron. For this is something I must do, you see…I must.”
The look he gave her was deep and probing. Ah, but it appeared he knew her too well and too long! “It’s not only your uncle’s death, is it, Glenda?”
Her head ducked low before she could summon the strength to answer. “Nay,” she whispered, and then again: “Nay! Oh, Cameron…Meredith, I am not certain I can explain! The happiest days of my life have been here at Dunthorpe.”
“And the most painful as well.”
Glenda’s smile was bittersweet. “Aye. And I have been restless of late. Oh, I pray you understand! I have made my home at Dunthorpe these many years. But ’tis time I returned to Blackstone Tower”—she took a deep breath—“to make my home there.”
This time it was Meredith who spoke. “Never tell me,” she said faintly. “You will not return?”
Glenda said nothing.
Meredith must have gleaned the answer in Glenda’s silence. “There will be no changing your mind, will there?”
“I fear not, Meredith.” Glenda’s tone was gentle, for she’d glimpsed the betrayingly bright sheen of tears which welled in Meredith’s eyes—and all at once those tears were her own as well.