“How many wives have you had?” she demanded outright.
His eyes met hers once more and she caught herself searching for the truth in that direct gaze. Another rumour without substance? Or the devil giving her what she most wanted to hear?
Most wanted? I must be losing my mind to think I care either way. Disgusted with the both of them, Breghan spun away and ran to the spot where she’d discarded her shoes and hose. She quickly rolled the thin wool up her legs and donned her shoes. Hair prickled her neck and she knew his stare had followed her.
She turned to face him with a firm smile in place. “What made you choose McAllen’s daughter?”
“The lass has certain qualities I require in a wife.”
“You—you’ve met her?” Breghan tensed inside and out. Had he seen her someplace before? Did he know exactly who she was? Had he being toying with her all this time?
He shook his head. “Her reputation precedes her most favourably.”
Where there should have been only relief that he didn’t know who she was after all, came a sudden thrill.
Her virtues had been extolled?
Leave be. What does it matter anyway? No answer will sway my mind.
Her mouth defied her resolve. “What exactly did you hear of her?”
“The lass has twelve brothers,” came the flat reply. “Each one over six foot tall and built like a boulder.”
Confounded, she waited for more as she watched his face eagerly. “Go on,” she said to his silence. “What other qualities caught your interest?”
“None that come to mind,” he said with a shrug.
She was starting to hate that shrug.
And she was thoroughly dismayed with herself. That thrill had come from more than a desire to be acknowledged as a worthy individual.
What had she expected to hear? That he’d fallen in love with her from afar, from an imaginary picture painted by romantic fables of her beauty and gentle nature? An excuse to stop worrying, stop running, to believe that Arran Kerr could truly be a husband who’d cherish her?
“You want McAllen might on your side,” she said dully.
His eyes creased at the outer edges and his lips twitched suspiciously.
When he erupted into a guffawing laugh that had him bent double, her brows crossed. This man seemed to swing between moods like a pendulum without any apparent cause. She folded her arms and glared at him. “Are you laughing at me?”
“N—no, lass.” He started to come up, then fell into another bout of laughter. “’Tis just the idea of a Kerr wanting anything from a McAllen.”
“You want McAllen’s daughter.”
Her reminder sobered him at once and he unbent with a straight face. “I willna dispute that.”
Breghan tapped her foot impatiently. “You’ve still not explained why you chose her above all others.”
If she could uncover some foul motive, she could convince her father of his error in judgement and all would be forgiven.
“You’re mighty curious for a castle lass.”
“I’ve served the young mistress for many years,” Breghan said quickly. “Naturally her fate remains my concern.”
“McAllen’s daughter is your mystery lady?” Serious now, he gave her a long, absorbing look. “Very well, lass, I suppose I do owe you a boon after…” He shrugged.
“You stabbed me?” she offered.
“I’ve ridden alongside McAllen many a time,” he told her. “Most often Tristan, Kyle and Callum were there, sometimes Thomas and James. I knew McAllen had twelve sons, of course, each as strong and towering as the next. It was only when I attended our Queen Mary’s wedding feast at Holyrood, however, that McAllen mentioned a daughter. I admire the man his prolificacy and even more I admire his lady wife. So when McAllen hinted at the merits of a union, I found no reason to stall negotiations.”
Breghan raised a hand to interrupt. She knew very well that Arran hadn’t met her mother at Holyrood in July. “From where do you know McAllen’s wife?”
“I don’t. I admire the lady for bearing a dozen strapping sons and living to see them grow.”
Finally, he was beginning to make sense.
Breghan’s mouth fell open in disgust. “You don’t know the Lady McAllen. You’ve never seen her, never met her. The only thing you admire is her ability to produce a pack of hearty sons and you hope the daughter is made from the same stock.”
“Aye,” Arran stated without a blink.
“You don’t seek a woman to tend your home? To see to your comfort?”
“I have servants for that.”
“Someone to keep you company by the fire at day’s end? Someone you can laugh and talk with?”
“There’s more ’an fifty men at Ferniehirst at any one time, lass. I’ve all the company any man could need.”
Breghan’s voice grew faint as her throat went dry. “Someone to share your worries with?”
“A man takes care of his own troubles.”
The roasted hares were laid side by side on a blanket of fresh leaves. Breghan didn’t refuse when he sliced a generous portion for her. She’d eaten nothing since the previous night.
In between bites, she chose to inform him, “In all your haste, didn’t you stop to consider why McAllen’s daughter reached the grand age of nineteen without any offers of marriage?”
He gave her a blank look.
“The daughter runs to fat,” she declared. “She is mean tempered and as ugly as a wart. ’Twould be an awful trial to beget your heirs on her.”
“My wife should certainly be buxom to carry my offspring. Besides, I prefer my woman with a bit of flesh to hold on to.” He tore off a juicy leg and ripped into it with a hearty appetite.
“She has a small forehead, a sharp nose and no chin at all,” Breghan went on. Once she was done, he’d consider it a blessing to find his brood mare had fled the pasture.
“If her appearance isn’t to my taste, I’ll douse the candles before climbing into bed at night.” He shrugged those massive shoulders.
It was confirmed.
She hated that noncommittal shrug.
“She has a vicious tongue that none can escape. Everyone from kitchen servant to castle lord falls foul to her scathing rants.”
“If I canna keep her screams sweet in bed, I’ll keep her mouth busy elsewhere.”
Breghan had no idea what he meant by that, but everything else was perfectly clear. Arran Kerr had no interest in his bride’s character or looks. Only one thing filled his mind and she refused to play third party to a union between this man and her womb.
She was back to believing he’d buried six wives. He was clearly capable of using one up and then going on to the next. “Do you plan to spend any time out of bed at all?”
“If McAllen’s daughter is half as bad as you say, then no, at least not with my wife.”
... you can read more about The Devil of Jedburgh here and thanks for stopping by