The Highlander Series(163)

By: Maya Banks



The two women tucked their arms through Rionna’s and walked her out of the chamber and to the doorway leading outside to the balcony.

Rionna squinted at the sudden wash of sunshine but then closed her eyes and allowed the warmth to pour over her. It felt so good to be outside again. She inhaled deeply the sweet-scented air. Spring had at long last arrived and the earth burst with green, the snows long since melted and replaced by vibrant carpets of color.

She opened her eyes and glanced down to see all the McDonald warriors assembled in the courtyard. To the right, Caelen’s two brothers stood and beside them was seated the king, surrounded by his guard.

Rionna looked back to comment to Mairin and Keeley but found them gone. Befuddled, she turned her attention back to the courtyard in time to see her husband stride out to stand in front of the assembled men.

But it wasn’t them he faced or them he addressed. He turned and stared up at her. Quiet descended on the courtyard and Rionna swallowed, suddenly nervous and unsure of what was happening.

And then Caelen’s voice rang out over the courtyard: “Rionna McDonald, I stand here today because you assembled your warriors and came for me with a plan so crazed that it was brilliant. You risked your life because you loved me. I have not a gesture so grand as yours to prove my love and regard. You once told me you demanded the words and you demanded the part of my heart you swore I locked away from you. ’Tis the truth that no part of me was safe from your possession.”

Rionna gripped the stone edge of the curved balcony wall and leaned forward as she drank in her husband’s appearance and let his words slide like silk over her ears.

“Nay, my gesture is not as grand as yours. You were willing to sacrifice all because you considered me yours and were unwilling to let me go.

“I once made the mistake of trying to change who you were. I tried to take a bold, courageous woman and make her into a meek, mild-mannered genteel lady because I thought I would be safe from her. ’Twas the biggest mistake I’ve ever made and one I’ll regret all my days.

“I offer you the words now, wife. I love you. I love my warrior princess. I say it in front of my king, my clan. Our clan. So that you’ll know how very loved and cherished you are.”

A roar of approval went up from the men. They raised their swords and whoops and whistles rose sharply through the air.

She pressed her fist to her mouth so she wouldn’t embarrass herself or Caelen by bursting into tears. “I love you, too, my gruff warrior,” she whispered.

“I gathered my king and my family today to rectify a wrong,” Caelen continued when the cheers diminished. He turned then, partly to include the McDonald men in his address. “The McDonalds deserve to have their name live on. ’Tis a noble and courageous thing they did for the laird who bore not their name and for the king who divided their clan.”

Slowly he raised his gaze once more to find Rionna’s. His love was a tangible warmth crowding his clear green eyes.

“Henceforth I will no longer be known as Caelen McCabe. From this day forward I take the name of Caelen McDonald. May our clan live long, and the glory of the day a golden-haired warrior princess led them into battle be retold for many years to come.”

Rionna’s mouth dropped open. Stunned silence settled over the courtyard as the warriors all stared at Caelen. The women who’d gathered to hear the address put their hands to their mouths. Some openly wept and others brought their aprons to their eyes.

Ewan stared at his brother with pride while Mairin, who’d gone to join her husband, wiped tears from her face.

And then Rionna was running. She flew into the keep and down the stairs, grasping her skirts in tight fists so she didn’t fall. She burst out of the door of the keep and there was Caelen, standing before her, the king, his brothers, and their clan.

She stopped before she hurled herself into his arms, remembering his admonishment so many months earlier about showing affection in front of his men.

“If you wait any longer to come to me, I’ll tackle you here in front of everyone,” Caelen said in a low voice.

With a cry she launched herself into his arms and he caught her against him as she fused her mouth to his in a kiss that her clansmen would talk about years later.

He spun her around and around as her laughter filled the air. Around them their clan gathered, joyous and celebrating. When he finally lowered her to the ground, he kept her pressed to his chest as he stared into her eyes.

“I love you, lass. There is not a single part of my heart or soul that you do not own.”

“I’m glad of that, Caelen McDonald, for I am a possessive woman and I’ll not be content with anything less than the whole of you.”

He grinned and lowered his mouth to kiss her again. “You are a greedy lass. I like it.”





EPILOGUE





Caelen quietly let himself into his chamber, his newborn son nestled in his arms. A few feet away, Rionna slept, exhausted from the birth.

Carefully, so as not to awaken her, he lay the babe next to her and stood looking down on the most precious things in his life.

The celebration was still ongoing below. His brothers and their wives had traveled to McDonald keep for the birth, and Caelen had gone down to present his son to his clan.

He could go back down and leave Rionna to rest, but he found himself going to his desk and taking out his scrolls, quill, and inkwell.

As he’d told Rionna, he wasn’t an eloquent man and could oft express himself better in writing than he could aloud. Today was such a day, for his heart was so full he could never hope to fully put into speech all that he felt.

He opened the scroll and hastily scrawled the year and the day, for this was an important entry. The day that marked the birth of his son.

But ’twas his wife he found himself thinking on as he sat writing by the light of a candle. Every once in awhile he looked up and smiled a contented smile as he watched his wife and child sleep.

When he’d finished the last of his entry, he scattered sand to dry the ink and then looked one last time at all he’d written.

Today will long be a day that lasts in my memory. I was sore afraid as Rionna struggled to bring forth life from her womb, but I needn’t have worried, for my warrior princess was as fierce as ever. And indeed she presented me a fine, squalling son, with a satisfied smile upon her face. She informs me that my son will bear my green eyes and dark hair because she commands it. I’ll not gainsay her, for ’tis widely known that I cannot deny her anything.

She rests now and I cannot help but stare and marvel at the miracle she represents. I’ll never forget the day I first saw her and how she fascinated me with her mannish attire, the sword she wielded with the skill of a warrior, and the challenge in her beautiful eyes. She’s spoken before of a time when part of my heart was withheld from her because it belonged to another, but from the moment I laid eyes on her, I belonged solely to her.

Ah, lass, I think I have always loved you, for ’tis the truth I cannot ever remember a time I didn’t.

Caelen McDonald, Laird of the McDonald clan

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