In the stable, Liam kicked the stall door, startling a few horses with his outburst. Their disgruntled whinnies and snorts had him apologizing to the beasts he’d upset.
It wasn’t that he’d expected anything but another rejection; however, his heart was still reeling with disappointment and loss. He’d dreamed of a life with Evelyn Stewart as his wife. But, as it was with the dreams he’d had as a lad, it wasn’t to be.
He often wondered what he’d done to be punished so. And from the time he’d heard the stories of God’s wrath he’d tried to atone for whatever sin he still paid for. Being a warrior piled on the debt with the lives he’d taken, but he hoped killing to protect his clan was redeemed in some way.
“What did I do?” Liam’s question was for God, but he spoke it to the white mare that had come to stare at him accusingly over her stall door. She didn’t have an answer. Instead, she lifted her head a few times and snorted before pulling back inside to leave him alone once more.
It seemed he’d been alone all his life. He had snippets of memories from a life he didn’t know, a faceless man who’d lifted him on his shoulders. An older woman who fell asleep in the woods and didn’t wake up when he called for her.
As a boy, he’d spent a lot of time on the battlements watching for his parents to come for him. He didn’t know what direction they’d come from so he wore himself out moving from one end of the castle to the other. Occasionally, he’d fall asleep and Roderick, the old laird and Lachlan’s father would come gather him up and carry him to the hall or the solar to sleep.
No one ever came for him.
He’d made sure never to cause a fuss or a bit of trouble so he wouldn’t be turned out of Dunardry. While he’d known he didn’t belong, it was the only home he’d ever had.
“I must’ve done some terrible sin in another life to deserve all the trials of this one.” He held out a bit of apple to the mare he’d insulted and thought maybe she forgave him.
His own stomach growled, and he took a bite of the apple. The laird had offered him a meal, but he couldn’t think of eating in the hall. What if he saw Evelyn? He didn’t think he’d be able to stand it.
He turned to see her standing before him as if he’d conjured her with his thoughts. His heart picked up and his stomach twisted. It was an unsettling feeling, one he felt each time he thought of her.
“Are you leaving already?” she asked.
“I—yes. My meeting with your father didn’t go as expected. Or rather, it went as expected, but I had been hoping for a different outcome.” He couldn’t stop babbling. Where was his easy charm that had the maids at Dunardry eager to drag him off behind the kitchens? “Yes, I’m leaving.”
She adjusted a cloth bag on her shoulder. It looked full to bursting. He reached for it, wanting to ease her struggle if only for a short time. It was a small thing he could offer during their last moments. She waved his gesture away and repositioned the bag.
He would need to tell her goodbye, and it would be forever. He looked about the stable, wishing for something that would give him more time with her. Every second was a memory he could hold onto when he returned to his home alone.
“I know why you’re here,” she said before biting her bottom lip. It did nothing to help with the twisting feeling in his stomach.
“Yes. I listened at the door. You seemed so nervous I thought you must be here to share troubling news.”
He nodded and frowned. He was certainly troubled. “You should know, I would’ve asked you after speaking to him, if I’d gained your father’s permission. And had you said no, I wouldn’t have pushed the matter. It was to be your decision. I would never try to force ye into anything.”
“I know that, Liam. I remember how kind you were when you saw me home. I was a mess. Skin and bones and more skittish than a rabbit in an open field. But you were patient and calm. When I needed a friend more than ever, you didn’t push for anything more.”
He smiled at her words. Perhaps it wasn’t what he’d wanted to hear from the woman he’d hoped to marry. He might have preferred manly or striking. Maybe even courageous rather than kind. But he nodded in acceptance of her compliment because he knew, at the time, she hadn’t needed him to be any of those other manly things.
As she said, she’d needed a friend and he’d tried his best to be that.
He’d offered her a shoulder to cry on and a distraction when she’d been overwhelmed. And he would cherish the moments he’d had with her for the rest of his life.
“It’s because of your kindness that I agree to marry you,” she said nervously. She adjusted the strap of her bag while he stared at her.
It was possibly the best thing anyone had ever said to him and the most heartbreaking as well, for he knew it would never be.
“I’d like nothing more, but your father denied my request.”
She nodded. “I heard. But I also heard you a moment ago when you said it was to be my choice. And I’ve chosen. I want to marry you, Liam. Right now.”
“Do you mean elope?” he asked, slow to catch on to a plan she must have made before meeting him in the stables.
“Yes. We’ll marry in the village. The minister doesn’t know me. Then we can return to your home and Dunardry. I’m ready to go with you.” She patted the bag.
Had he thought it full? He knew it carried everything she wished to take with her for their new life and it didn’t seem near enough.
She’d packed her things and come for him. That bag, full that it was, held everything she was able to bring with her. He couldn’t allow a laird’s daughter to run off with a bastard and nothing more than a bag of her belongings. She’d surely hate him once she realized what she’d given up.
“I can’t ask you to flee your home to be with me, Ev.”
“You didn’t need to ask.” She frowned and looked up at him with her large brown eyes.
“I’d give you everything I have, but it’s not much. It’s not enough for someone like you.” He’d planned to save her dowry and use every farthing for her. But to elope meant she’d have nothing but what he could provide. She deserved so much better.
“Did you change your mind?” She bit her trembling lip and he nearly pulled her into his arms to comfort her.
“I surely didn’t change my mind.”
“Then it was only my dowry you wanted?”
“Of course not. I don’t give a damn about your dowry except to use it for you.” He frowned. “Forgive my language.” Christ, he couldn’t even act dignified. Why would she want to marry him?
“I want to marry you. If you want to marry me, why should anyone else stand in our way?” she explained simply.
She made a fair argument. Lachlan had always told him to make wise choices. It was what made the difference between a man and a leader. But he couldn’t think straight with her looking at him like that. He could only want.
“Let’s go,” he said finally. Whether it was a good choice or not, they’d find out later.
He knew only that he couldn’t leave without her. He’d marry her and deal with whatever consequences came next.
(c) Allison B. Hanson, Entangled Publishing, 2021. Shared with permission from the publisher.
Clan MacKinlay #3
Liam MacKinlay is certain that when he asks for Evelyn Stewart’s hand in marriage, the third time’s the charm. For hasn’t he risen to war chief of the clan MacKinlay, a seasoned warrior, and an honored member of the clan that took him in as a child? But once again, her father denies Liam the lass he lost his heart to years ago.
Daughter of the Laird of the Stewart clan, Evelyn is expected to perform her daughter’s duty, including marry for the better of the clan…. even if that’s against her will. But upon learning her father plans to trade her to an unknown clan in exchange for cattle, she will do almost anything to escape the future set out before her— including running away and marrying Liam MacKinlay.
Liam’s discovering that beneath Evelyn’s sweet disposition is an iron will to match any warrior. But now their marriage may start a war between the clans and Liam must fight for his new wife and his family. Even if it means raising his sword against those he calls “kin”…
Romance Historical [Entangled: Amara, On Sale: November 15, 2021, e-Book, ISBN: 9781682815496 / ]
One very early morning, Allison B. Hanson woke up with a conversation going on in her head. It wasn't so much a dream as it was being forced awake by her imagination. Unable to go back to sleep, she gave up, went to the computer, and began writing. Years later it still hasn't stopped. Allison lives near Hershey, Pennsylvania. Her contemporary romances include paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery suspense. She enjoys candy immensely, as well as long motorcycle rides and reading. Visit her at www.allisonbhanson.com.
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