The Highlander Series(7)By: Maya Banks
“She took a beating for me,” Crispen shouted.
Ewan’s expression wavered, and he stared again at her as if trying to see for himself the extent of her injuries. He looked torn, as if he really wanted to demand that she cooperate, but with both Crispen and Alaric staring expectantly at him, he snapped his lips shut and took a step back himself.
His muscles bulged in his arms and neck, and he took several breaths as if he were working to keep his patience. She felt sympathy for him, she truly did. If it were her child, she’d demand, just as he had, every detail. And if it were true—and Ewan had no reason to lie—that Duncan Cameron was his mortal enemy, she could well understand why he looked at her with such mistrust and hatred. Aye, she understood well his dilemma. It didn’t mean she was suddenly going to cooperate, however.
Gathering her nerve, and hoping she didn’t sound boastful, she looked the laird in the eye. “I did save your son, Laird. I would be most appreciative of what aid you could provide. I won’t ask for much. A horse and maybe some food. I’ll be on my way and no longer a bother.”
Ewan no longer stared at her. Nay, he turned his face heavenward as if praying for either patience or deliverance. Maybe both.
“A horse. Food.”
He said the words, still looking up at the sky. Then he slowly lowered his head until those green eyes scorched the breath right out of her.
“You aren’t going anywhere, lass.”
Ewan stared at the woman before him, and it was all he could do not to shake her senseless. The little chit had audacity, he’d hand her that. He didn’t know what hold she had on his son, but he’d soon get to the bottom of it.
Even Alaric seemed under her spell, and while he could understand it, because Lord, the lass was bonnie, it annoyed him that his brother sought to defend her against him.
She turned her chin up farther in defiance and the light caught her eyes. Blue. Not just blue but a brilliant hue that reminded him of the sky in spring just before summer took hold.
Her hair was bedraggled but the curls hung all the way down to her waist, a waist he could span with his hands. Aye, his hands would fit nicely in the curve between her hips and her breasts, and if he slid his hands up just a bit, he’d cup the generous swell of her bosom.
She was beautiful. And she was trouble.
She was also in pain. She hadn’t faked that.
Her eyes dimmed and he got a better view of the shadows that surrounded them. She was trying valiantly to hide her discomfort, but it radiated from her in almost discernible waves.
Her questioning would have to wait.
He raised his hand and motioned toward one of the women gathered on the perimeter.
“See to her needs,” he ordered. “Have a bath drawn. See that Gertie prepares her a plate of food. And for God’s sake, give her something other than Cameron’s colors to wear.”
Two of the McCabe women hurried forward and each took an arm of the woman still standing by Alaric.
“Careful now,” Alaric cautioned. “Her injuries are still paining her.”
The women removed their hands and instead gestured toward her to precede them into the keep. She looked nervously around, and it was clear she had no desire to go in. She tucked her bottom lip between her teeth until Ewan was sure she’d draw blood if she didn’t cease.
Ewan sighed. “I’m not ordering your death, lass. You asked for a bath and food. Are you questioning my hospitality now?”
She frowned, and her eyes narrowed as she gazed sharply at him. “I asked for a horse and food. I’ve no need of your hospitality. I’d prefer to be on my way as soon as possible.”
“I’ve no horses to spare, and furthermore, you aren’t going anywhere until I’ve sorted this entire matter out. If you have no wish for a bath, I’m sure the women would be happy to show you into the kitchens so you can eat.”
He finished with a shrug that signaled he didn’t care whether she bathed or not. That had been Alaric’s idea, but didn’t all women jump at the chance to wallow in a tub of hot water?
She pursed her lips as if to argue but evidently decided restraint was a better idea. “I’d like a bath.”
He nodded. “Then I suggest you follow the women upstairs before I change my mind.”
She turned, muttering something under her breath that he didn’t catch. His eyes narrowed. The contrary lass was sorely trying his patience.
He looked around for his son only to see him running behind the women toward the keep.
“Crispen,” he called.
Crispen turned around, anxiety over being kept from the woman etched on his small brow.
“Come here, son.”
After another moment’s hesitation, he launched himself toward Ewan, and Ewan caught him up in his arms once more.
His heart raced frantically as the sheer relief of holding his son again overwhelmed him. “You frightened ten years off me, lad. Don’t ever scare your father like this again.”
Crispen clung to Ewan’s shoulders and burrowed his face into Ewan’s neck.
“I won’t, Papa. I promise.”
Ewan hung on to him far longer than necessary, until Crispen wiggled to be set free. He hadn’t thought to see his son again, and if Alaric was to be believed, he had the woman to thank for it.
He looked over Crispen’s head to Alaric, demanding answers from his silent brother. Alaric shrugged.
“If you’re wanting answers from me, you’re looking to the wrong person.” He gestured impatiently at Crispen. “He and the lass refused to tell me anything. The cheeky little brat demanded I return them both to you so that you could protect her.”
Ewan frowned and looked Crispen in the eyes. “Is this true, son?”
Crispen looked decidedly guilty, but determination sparked in his green eyes. His lips twisted mutinously, and he tensed as if he expected Ewan to launch into a tirade.
“I gave my word,” Crispen said stubbornly. “You said a McCabe never breaks his word.”
Ewan shook his head wearily. “I’m beginning to regret telling you of things a McCabe doesn’t do. Come, let’s sit in the hall so you can tell me of these adventures of yours.”
He leveled a glance at Alaric, silently commanding his presence as well. Then he turned to Gannon. “Take your men and ride north to find Caelan. Tell him Alaric has returned Crispen home. Return as quickly as you can.”
Gannon bowed and hurried away, shouting orders as he went.
Ewan set Crispen down but kept a firm grip on his shoulder as he herded him into the keep. They walked into the hall amid a chorus of cries and exclamations. Crispen was soundly hugged by every passing woman and slapped on the back by the men of the clan. Finally Ewan waved them away so they were left alone in the hall.
Ewan sat at the table and patted the space next to him. Crispen hopped onto the bench while Alaric sat across the table from them.
“Now tell me what happened,” Ewan commanded.
Crispen looked down at his hands, his shoulders drooping.
“Crispen,” Ewan began gently. “What else did I tell you McCabes always do?”
“Tell the truth,” Crispen said grudgingly.
Ewan smiled. “Indeed. Now begin your tale.”
Crispen sighed dramatically before saying, “I snuck out to meet Uncle Alaric. I thought I’d wait at the border and surprise him when he came home.”
Alaric glared across the table at Crispen, but Ewan held up his hand.
“Let him continue.”
“I must have gone too far. One of the McDonald soldiers took me and said he was going to take me back to his laird to ransom me.”
He turned pleading eyes on Ewan. “I couldn’t let him do that, Papa. It would shame you, and our clan can’t afford a ransom. So I escaped and hid in the cart of a traveling merchant.”
Ewan tensed in rage at the McDonald soldier, and his heart clenched at the pride in his son’s voice.
“You could never shame me, Crispen,” Ewan said quietly. “Now go on with your story. What happened next?”
“The merchant discovered me after a day and he chased me out. I didn’t know where I was. I tried to steal a horse from men who were camping but they caught me. M—I mean she saved me.”
“Who saved you?” Ewan demanded.
“She saved me.”
Ewan swallowed his impatience. “Who is she?”
Crispen fidgeted uncomfortably. “I can’t tell you. I promised.”
Ewan and Alaric exchanged frustrated glances, and Alaric raised one eyebrow as if to say I told you so.
“All right, Crispen, what exactly did you promise?”
“That I wouldn’t tell you who she was,” Crispen blurted. “I’m sorry, Papa.”
“I see. What else did you promise?”
Crispen looked puzzled for a moment, and across the table, Alaric smiled as he caught on to the direction Ewan was headed.
“I just promised I wouldn’t tell you her name.”
Ewan stifled his grin. “All right, so continue with your story. The lady saved you. How did she do this? Was she camping with the men you tried to steal the horse from? Were they escorting her to a destination?”
Crispen’s brow creased as he struggled with whether he could divulge such information without breaking his promise.