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Ceci Giltenan(5)

By:Highland Solution

He looked momentarily stunned as well, but rapidly recovered, telling her, “Say your goodbyes quickly. We are leaving.”

Her uncle approached and kissed Katherine on both cheeks. “Goodbye, my dear, I can’t tell you how much we will miss you,” he said, with an insipid expression on his face.

That is because you won’t miss me. She didn’t know why he bothered with the farce because Laird MacIan had already left the chapel. She managed to say, “Goodbye, Uncle” civilly. Lord Ruthven returned to the keep, not bothering to see them off. Father James gave her a hug and Katherine couldn’t suppress a wince.

Father looked concerned and asked, “Katherine, dear, will you be all right? Perhaps you should tell your new husband. You have a long journey ahead.”

“No Father. Please don’t say anything. Nothing good can come from telling him now. I’ll be fine.”

He shook his head but didn’t argue, and taking her arm, walked with her into the courtyard, saying, “Katherine, I am certain you will be a wonderful wife and mother.”

She loved the old priest, so she smiled and teased, “How do you know I’ll be a wonderful wife, you’ve never been married.”

He chuckled, took both of her hands in his, and said, “My sweet girl, this world is full of people whose first concern is usually their own needs or desires. You are one of the few who always considers the needs of others before your own. You have learned the surest way to open yourself to hurt is to love and yet you love anyway. How could one so full of love and compassion not be a wonderful wife and mother?” He smiled, traced a cross on her forehead with his thumb, and kissed her on the cheek, saying “Go with God, my dear one.”

Katherine squeezed his hands and smiled at him, blinking back tears. This could be the last time she would ever see this gentle man. She couldn’t speak. She took a deep breath to muster her courage, and walked toward the gray mare the stable master led. Before she reached them, Laird MacIan waved the stable master away, saying, “Lady Katherine will ride with me.”

~ * ~

Her vehement and panic-stricken, “Nay!” surprised Niall.

She hurried towards him saying, “I can ride very well, my lord. Stormy is mine. My father gave her to me years ago.” Perhaps for the first time since meeting her, she wasn’t trying to hide the emotion she felt. While he expected to see defiance, fitting his expectations of a pampered noblewoman, instead he saw fear. On the verge of barking at her for publically challenging him, that glimpse of raw fear made him hesitate.

“I’m sure ye do ride well, for a woman, but the journey will be hard, over very rough terrain. Your mare is not sturdy enough. It would be cruel.”

She laid a hand on his arm, stopping him as he turned away. Looking him in the eye, she leaned close to him, saying in a voice so low only he could hear it, “It will be cruel to leave her.”

Unable to ignore the beseeching look she gave him, after a moment he said “We will take her without a rider.” The sudden warmth he felt when he saw the tension leave her body and heard her sigh of relief surprised him. He helped her onto the saddle of his huge warhorse. She put her right knee over the pommel and he mounted behind her, pulling her close. He inhaled her sweet, clean scent and her soft, round bottom pressed intimately against his groin, fanning the warmth he’d felt into full flame. He frowned as Katherine stiffened and leaned forward ever so slightly, holding herself away from him.

Having removed Stormy’s saddle, the stable master handed the reins to one of Niall’s men and they set out. After they cleared the castle gate, Katherine said quietly, “Thank you for bringing my mare, but you don’t plan to take her the whole way, do you.”

She hadn’t asked it as a question, she simply made the statement and her accurate assessment of the situation surprised him. In fact, this day and his new wife seemed to be full of surprises. “Nay, I don’t,” he agreed. “Our pace and the terrain really will be too hard on her. I assume there is some reason why ye were afraid to leave her behind?”

“Aye. My uncle is...cruel.”

The brief pause in her comment made Niall wonder what other description of her uncle she had censored before arriving at “cruel.”

“Tomorrow we will be passing through a holding belonging to one of my allies. The mare will be well-treated there.”

Katherine gave a slight nod of her head. Then her brow furrowed and she appeared worried about something else. Looking as if she was about to confess some mortal sin, she said, “My lord—”

“I am your husband now, call me Niall.”