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Ceci Giltenan(10)

By:Highland Solution

He thought about what had just happened. Walking away from the loch he had nursed a hot rage. As Tomas told his story, images of Katherine throughout the day flashed through Niall’s mind, her white knuckles, her tenseness in the saddle, an occasional wince, the drawn expression on her face when they had finally stopped, all things he had blamed on her weakness. He had unwittingly added to her pain throughout the day by the brutal pace he set. As he headed back to the camp to confront her, he didn’t know who angered him most, himself, her insane uncle, or Katherine, for not telling him about her injuries from the start. If she had only told him, he started to rationalize to himself, but he knew better. The signs were there and he had simply failed to heed them.

He wanted to kill Ambrose Ruthven. Only a man who was completely without honor abused women or children. Niall now understood why Ruthven suggested that they wait to consummate the marriage. The bastard was worried about how I might react when I learned of his abuse, and wanted to make damn sure that didn’t happen until I was too far away to do anything about it.

His guilt made him angry at himself, and his honor fueled his rage for Ruthven, but why had he been angry with Katherine as well? Because she didn’t give me the opportunity to murder the abhorrent bastard. Then the last words she said before collapsing into tears penetrated his thick head, you would have been killed. Shaking his head slightly, he realized Katherine had been worried about him. She sought to protect him by not revealing her injuries. When he heard the priest tell her, you are one of the few who always considers the needs of others before your own, he hadn’t believed it, couldn’t believe it.

Maybe Katherine is different, he thought. The surest way to open yourself to hurt is to love and yet you love anyway, the old man had said. Niall knew risking that kind of pain took a strength he didn’t have. Maybe the fragile lass, who clung to him in her sleep, did.

~ * ~

When her tears stopped, Katherine became aware he held her. With his arms snugly around her, she felt secure. I’m safe, she thought, as she drifted asleep.

~ * ~

After bathing Tomas, Fingal wrapped him in a plaid and washed his dirty tunic. Tomas looked up at him seriously and said, “I have never heard my lady yell like that.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

After a moment Tomas said “It would have made Sir Ruthven mad. Will it make the laird mad?”

Fingal knew Niall would have flattened any man who dared to speak to him that way, but he would never hurt a woman intentionally. He said, “Tomas, there is no need to worry about Lady Katherine, our laird takes care of his own.”

“Am I ‘his own’ now, too?” Tomas asked.

“Aye, Tomas, ye are,” Fingal answered. Tomas seemed relieved. He turned onto his side, curled into a ball and went to sleep.


When the men returned from the lake, Niall eased the sleeping Katherine onto the ground and wrapped the plaid around her. Rising, he told Diarmad they’d have to set an easier pace. “I thought as much,” Diarmad replied.

Niall shook his head, saying, “The problem is we carry a small fortune and half of Edinburgh knows about it. I had hoped that by moving quickly, we would stay ahead of any threat, but we need a contingency plan now. I want ye to go ahead with half of the men and most of the dowry. Travel as fast as ye can. We shouldn’t be more than a day or so behind ye.”

“Do ye want your brother to ride ahead with us?”

Niall gave him a dark look and said, “Nay, he’ll stay with me. I’m beginning to question the wisdom of bringing him back from Laird Chisholm. Perhaps I should have considered making Rowan MacKenzie a guardsman instead.”

Diarmad laughed, “Prying one of his sons away from Cathal MacKenzie would have been a challenge. Besides, I thought ye wanted to keep your brother close.”

“That may not have been the best idea. I’m not sure he can be trusted.”

“All the more reason to keep him close, but I don’t understand why ye think that. For what it is worth, I think ye made the right choice.”

“I suppose ye are right, Diarmad, and what’s done is done. Nevertheless, I don’t want Fingal guarding the coin.” Looking across the camp, he watched as Fingal laid a sleeping Tomas near where the other men were bedding down. “Besides, I’m not sure I want to inflict Tomas’ endless chatter on anyone else for the moment.”

Diarmad chuckled, “Ye aren’t worried ye are punishing Fingal unfairly?”

“I’m only paying him back for years of the same treatment from him,” Niall said lightly, but the fact remained that he didn’t trust Fingal and had no intention of sending him ahead.