The MacKinnon's Bride
When laird Iain MacKinnon's young son is captured by the English, the fierce Scottish chieftain retaliates in kind, capturing the daughter of his enemy to bargain for his son's return. Fiercely loyal to kin, Iain never imagines any father could deny his child--or that he would become Page FitzSimon's savior. "Keep her, or kill her!" FitzSimon proclaims when Iain forces his hand. So, what else should a good lad do, but carry the lass home--without telling her the truth: Her father doesn't want her. But even as Page blames her reluctant champion for welching on a bargain with her father, she suspects the truth... the shadows hold secrets... and danger. Now only love can save MacKinnon's fiery new bride.
Release date: December 8, 2017
Publisher: Oliver-Heber Books
Print pages: 356
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The MacKinnon's Bride
Tanya Anne Crosby
Chreagach Mhor, Scotland 1118
Iain, laird of the MacKinnons, descendant of the powerful sons of MacAlpin, paced the confines of the hall below his chamber like an overeager youth.
So much hope was affixed upon this birth.
Now, at last, thirty years of feuding with the MacLeans would come to an end. Aye, for how could auld man MacLean look upon his grandbairn and not want peace? After a year full of enmity from his bonny MacLean wife—a year of trying to please her only to meet with stony disapproval and wordless accusations—even Iain felt burgeoning hope for how could she look upon their babe, the life they’d created together, and not feel some measure—some small measure, of affection?
Despite the past hostilities between their clans, his own resentment dissipated in the face of this momentous occasion, and though he couldn’t say he’d loved her before this moment, he thought he might now, for she lay abovestairs, struggling—and a heinous struggle it was—to gift their babe with its first wondrous breath of life.
She was havin’ his bairn.
Ach, but he was proud of her.
As difficult as the birth was proceeding, she’d borne her pain with nary a scream, nary a curse, though he’d never have begrudged her either. In truth, her shrieks might have been far easier to bear. Her silence was tormenting him. He couldn’t help but be nerve racked by the thought of his young wife in the throes of her labor, for his own mother had died just so, giving him life. Guilt over it plagued him still.
Iain lengthened his stride.
What if the birth killed her?
What if he killed her?
’Twas a fear he’d borne from the first day he’d lain his hands upon her in carnal pleasure, and it wouldn’t be eased now until he saw her face once more. He would welcome even her sullen glances this moment. He’d bear them for the rest of his days if only she’d live through this punishing birth. In fact, he swore that if his touch was truly so unbearable for her, he’d touch her no more. He’d grant her anything her heart desired—anything—and if she desired him not, then so be it.
If she died... where, then, was their peace?
Damn MacLean, for he’d as lief be—
The glorious sound of a babe’s newborn wail resounded from above, a rapturous siren that froze Iain midstride.
He found he couldn’t move, could do little more than stare at the stone steps that led to his chamber, joy and fear holding him immobilized.
It seemed forever before he heard the heavy door above swing open and then the hastening footsteps.
Maggie, his wife’s maid, appeared on the stairwell. “A son, laird!” she exclaimed, shouting down happily. “Ye’ve a son!”
Those beautiful words freed Iain from his stupor. Yelping euphorically, he bolted up the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time in his haste to see his wife and a first glorious glimpse of his newborn son. “A son!” he said in marvel, passing Maggie as she hurried down to spread the news. She nodded, and joy surged through him. He wanted to kiss her fiercely—aye, Even Maggie.
Not even the midwife barring him entrance at the door diminished his spirits.
The woman who had so long ago helped to deliver him unto the world thrust out her arms to keep him from entering his chamber. “She doesna wish to see you, Iain.” The piteous look that came over her face sent prickles down his spine. “No’ as yet, she doesna.”
He braced himself to hear the worst. “Is she—”
“As well as can be expected. The babe didna wish to come is all.” She lowered her eyes, averting her gaze.
The babe was no longer crying.
“What is it, Glenna?” Fear swept through him. Unable to help himself, he seized her by the arms and fought the urge to thrust her aside, to see for himself. “What o’ the babe?”
She tilted him a sympathetic glance. “Dinna y’ hear him, lad? Your son is a fine wee bairn. Listen closer,” she bade him.
He did, and he could hear the babe’s soft shuddering coos.
His gaze was drawn within the darkened chamber.
The midwife must have felt his tension, his indecision, his elation, his confusion, for she stood firm when he tried to nudge her aside. “Iain... nay,” she beseeched him, “ye dinna wish to see her as yet... Gi’ her time.”
Iain released her and reeled backward, numb with misery. “She loathes me still?”
“Her labor was difficult and long,” Glenna explained. “’Twill pass. Go now, wait below stairs. I’ll come t’ fetch ye anon... ye’ve my word.” He hesitated and she added more firmly, “Do her this one kindness, Iain MacKinnon, for she doesna seem to be herself just now.”
Iain was torn between wanting to grant his wife this favor, no matter that it pained him that she didn’t wish to see him, and needing to hold his son. The desire was nearly tangible. “She truly doesna wish to—” His voice broke. “See me?”
The midwife shook her head.
“I... had hoped...” His jaw worked.
“Ach, but ye canna expect her to come aboot so soon, Iain! Gi’ her time. Gi’ her time.”
“Verra well.” His jaw turned taut. “But I’ll no’ wait long,” he assured her. “I intend to see my son, Glenna. She cannot keep me from him forever.”
The midwife’s eyes slanted with understanding. “’Tis all she asks o’ ye, lad.”
Iain could not speak, not to assent, nor to refuse.
He turned and made his way belowstairs, cursing whatever prideful act had kindled the accursed feud all those years ago between her da and his own. He didn’t even know, nor did anyone else seem to recall, what heinous crime had engendered such animosity. Like as not, it was naught more than the simple fact that his father’s hound had pissed upon old MacLean’s boot. Stubborn auld fools!
He didn’t have long to wait. For that he was grateful. Glenna needed only call him once and he was there at the door, shocked to find his wife standing in the middle of the chamber with their babe cradled in her arms, face wan, her hair disheveled. He thought she wavered a little on her feet, but she came forward, her face without expression, to place their infant within his arms. The gesture moved him so that any protest he might have uttered over her being out of bed fell away as he embraced his child.
He stared down in wonder into his child’s wrinkled little face.
Mayhap there was hope after all?
“’Twill be all, Glenna,” Mairi said.
Iain barely heard his wife’s clipped command, or the door closing behind Glenna, so overwhelmed was he with the incredible gift his wife had given him.
His throat constricted as he examined his son... so tiny... so incredibly beautiful... He began to count toes, fingers, dared to touch the little nose, lips... skin so soft.
“A son!” he whispered in awe, and glanced up momentarily to find his wife at the window. “Mairi, come away from there,” he said softly, his voice choking with emotion, “afore ye catch your death.” His heart pounded joyfully as he returned to the inspection of his babe.
“I wanted to show ye something, Iain.”
Her voice was lacking emotion, weary. He looked up to find her staring from the window, the breeze blowing gently through her beautifully mussed hair. A lovely halo surrounded her, he thought, the mother of his child. “You should rest,” he advised her. “Show me later, Mairi. Get yourself back to bed now.” She turned to face him then, and there was something indiscernible in her expression.
The hair at his nape prickled.
She tilted her head and smiled a little. “I wanted ye to see that bearin’ your bairn didna kill me, after all. Here I am, ye see.” She swayed like a drunkard, and guilt wrenched at his gut. “Two days it took me, but here I stand.” She laughed softly, and choked on her emotion.
“Thank God.” he said, and meant it fiercely. He peered down at their son, unable to endure her accusing gaze any longer. Self disgust flowed through him. “Thank you,” he whispered, unsure of what it was he was supposed to say. “I’ll make it up to ye, Mairi. I swear it.”
“I want only one thing from you,” she spat.
“Anything—” He choked on the declaration, but swore he’d give her whatever she so desired. Anything. She need only ask for it.
“I only wanted ye to see me wi’ your own eyes... to know the thought o’ bearin’ ye another—endurin’ your touch.” She shuddered and turned from him abruptly, leaning out from the tower window. “Sweet Mary!” she sobbed. “I’ll never do it again! I’ll not!”
Iain’s arms went numb with the weight of their child. A sense of foreboding rushed through him. She leaned farther, and a shudder shook him. “Mairi, come away from there now!”
“I want ye to know.”
A cold sweat broke over him. “Now!” he barked. “Get away from there, Mairi! Glenna!” he shouted and he started toward his wife with the babe in his arms, unsure of whether to lay the child down.
“The thought o’ ye ever touching me again did this. You killed me, Iain.”
She flung herself from the window before he could reach her.
Iain staggered to his knees, clutching their babe against his pounding heart.
He might have reached her had he not been holding their son.
Startled by his bellow, the babe began to squeal and Iain could only stare, stupidly, at the open window where an instant before his wife had stood.
Someone was watching; she could feel it.
Page froze in the midst of donning her undergown.
A twig snapped, muffled by the bracken of the forest floor, and she snatched down the hem, her eyes focusing upon the twisting shadows of the not too distant woods.
She could see naught through the midnight blackness, and naught more than silence reached her—a silence that settled like the night mist, formless and unnatural. Her teeth began to chatter, and for a long instant she stood there, chilled and wary, but she could hear nothing more than familiar night sounds: the croaking of frogs, the trilling of crickets, the distant howl of a wolf.
A quiver passed down her spine, for she had heard something. She was nearly sure of it.
’Twould behoove her, she decided, to hie back to the safety of the keep—perhaps to rethink the wisdom in coming out alone at night. All these months of slipping out without incident had made her lax in her guard.
Like a hundred nights before, Page had come out for her swim, without bothering to inform anyone of her destination—not that anyone would have cared, she assured herself quickly. The only blessed good to come of being daughter to a man who only wanted sons was that she had the freedom to do as she pleased. And yet it truly meant that nobody cared one whit where she went, what she did, or what became of her. And she didn’t trouble herself to think tonight would be any different.
On the other hand, she cared. She cared very much, and she had no intention of becoming somebody’s—or something’s—prey.
She sat hurriedly upon the boulder beside where she’d lain her clothes, and reached down to pluck up her beaten shoes from the dewy ground. She donned one quickly, muffling silent curses as her wet foot impeded her progress, and then changed her mind about lingering long enough to dress.
Mist crept about her feet, nebulous fingers wrapping about her ankles, unsettling her. She didn’t consider herself an overly fanciful person, but this instant, she might as well have been a timid church mouse for all that her heart was racing. Peering up at the sliver of moon that hovered above, she surged to her feet, bending hurriedly to retrieve the remainder of her garments.
Her eyes sought the metallic glimmer of her dagger beneath the pile of her clothing, and the downy hairs at her nape prickled when she failed to find it.
For the love of Christ, where could she have put it?
What good were clothes if she were dead. Dumping her gathered bundle, she lifted the other shoe to peer inside, thinking mayhap she’d placed the small dagger within it, but it wasn’t there, and she stifled a curse, fearing God was like to banish her to purgatory for an eternity already for her irreverence. Damnation, but she couldn’t help it.
Where could it possibly be?
Another twig snapped, closer this time, and Page decided she didn’t need the dagger after all. No sooner was her decision made when there was a hideous outcry. In the next instant they appeared—three barely discernible figures scrambling from the woods.
She didn’t linger to discover their intent.
Shrieking in fear, Page bolted, flinging the shoe behind her. An answering curse rang out, but she didn’t bother turning to see what damage it may have inflicted—minimal, if any, she was certain, for the sole was soft and worn with age—more’s the pity! She would’ve hoped to pluck out an eye with it.
Spouting oaths she didn’t like to admit she knew, she ran with all her might towards the castle, crying out for aid, hoping Edwin, the gatekeeper, wasn’t so inebriated that he thought her pleas a mere fancy of his cockeyed dreams. Blundering sot! If he had been at his post to begin with, she might not be in this predicament—she mightn’t have left the castle so effortlessly. And yet she knew the fault was not his, but hers. She should have known better—curse her rotten luck.
Her heart pounded faster with every stride she took.
Like a death knell, the sound of their footfalls came faster.
She quickened her pace, surging forward with a burst of energy born of terror. Ignoring the pain that flared at her side, Page kept near to the stream lest she collide with the enormous oak tree that guarded the pathway to the castle. God forgive her, but she hoped they wouldn’t see it and break their bloody necks for their efforts.
Her chest heaved. The pain in her side came sharper as she raced past the old oak. Still they remained behind her, their footfalls catching her shorter strides with too little effort.
She wasn’t going to make it. She really wasn’t going to make it.
Page wanted to weep with fear and despair.
Ahead of her, Aldergh Castle loomed, a distant silhouette against the ebony sky.
Distant and unreachable.
Like her father.
Her heart hammered.
She wasn’t going to make it.
Still she ran, nearly toppling headlong into the water when the path curved too sharply before her.
Their voices chased her, indistinguishable and alien, like bats in the darkness of a cave, flying at her from all directions.
Judas, where were they now?
Ahead of her? Behind? Where?
She wasn’t going to make it.
The stream wended its way before her, blanketed by a sheet of mist. A glimmer of hope sparked. Mayhap they couldn’t swim? She didn’t know many who could. Perchance she could lose them beneath the mist.
A hand reached out, brushing her leg and nearly snatching her shift, followed by a profusion of indecipherable curses when her pursuer realized he’d missed. But the shock of his touch made Page’s decision for her. She couldn’t afford to take the time to consider the consequences. Arms flailing, she hurled herself into the stream. Her legs followed like deadweight. She landed smack upon her belly, icy water striking her full in the face. The impact reverberated through her, numbing her senses, but Page recovered her faculties quickly. Ignoring the sting of her flesh, she swam with all her might toward the opposite shore, all the while listening for sounds of pursuit behind her. Relief flowed through her when there were none.
Thank you, God! Thank you! she prayed.
Even after reaching the bank, there was still no evidence of her pursuers, only shouts and curses she couldn’t quite decipher—coming from somewhere on the opposite shore. But she didn’t dare feel triumphant. If they were even vaguely familiar with the lay of the land, they would know that, but a few furlongs ahead, the stream ended and they would once again meet en route to the castle. Page didn’t intend to take that risk. Lifting herself from the water, sopping to her bones, she made instead for the sanctuary of the forest. They might expect her to run for the castle—as instinct was crying out she do. Logic told her she would fare much better doing the unexpected.
If she made it into the safety of the woods—and perchance climbed a tree—she could wait for them to tire of searching and then go home. They were likely no more than brigands—she their luckless prey. She was certain that, given the choice of searching all night for some faceless woman to rut with or seeking out more profitable victims, they would tire sooner rather than later and leave her be.
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