When Bryce entered the hall in his best shirt and his hair combed, he found the small gathering waiting by the hearth. Other than two servants there were no other women with their group.
For a moment his chest relaxed. Perhaps his bride had abandoned him. He’d be glad to be spared this duty. It would save them both a lot of misery.
Lach might be able to force him to marry for an alliance, but the laird couldn’t force Bryce to live with her or get a bairn on her. It would be a marriage contract in name only. A binding to gain access to a seaport from the McCurdys and nothing more.
Lach, Cam, and the priest were frowning when he arrived.
“What’s the matter. Did the lass flee?” Bryce couldn’t help a slight smile.
“Nay. She’s there with her maid.”
Bryce glanced over at the woman young enough to be Dorie McCurdy. A tall stick of a girl who looked as if she hadn’t eaten a good meal in ages. Her midnight hair longed for a comb, and her blue eyes darted around as if ready for an attack. He’d noticed her as he’d approached, but thought her a maid for how poorly she was dressed.
He knew the McCurdys were hurting for coin, but surely they could spend the money on a clean dress for the laird’s daughter on her wedding day. The gown wasn’t even made for her, as evidenced by the way the hem fell well above her thin ankles. He groaned when he noticed her bare feet. A twitch of sympathy coiled in his stomach before he reined it in. No emotions. None but anger.
“For the love of all that’s holy, what is going on here?” Bryce asked, quickly murmuring an apology when the priest gave him a look for his blasphemy. “She’s no shoes.”
“Aye.” Lach frowned and pulled him aside to whisper.
“She’s got nothing except the dress on her back, and I don’t think that’s hers, either.”
“My Mari wasn’t better dressed when I married her,” Cam offered. “In fact, she had no shoes, either. Perhaps it’s a good omen.”
“Marian had been on the run from the British for months. This lass is being delivered to her planned wedding by her family,” Lach said with a wave. “Kenna offered to find her a better dress and shoes, but her brother won’t have it. He wants the wedding done with as quickly as possible.”
“And you don’t think that speaks of something underhanded?” Cam asked.
Before Lach could answer, the McCurdy heir, Wallace, stepped up with his two cousins behind him.
“Is this the groom?” the man bellowed. “Let’s get on with it. Before the MacKinlay breaches another arrangement like the last time.” The younger men with him chuckled at the man’s snide comment.
Cam took a step toward the strangers, but Lach put out his arm to stop his progress. “Father,” Lach said to the priest. “Let’s commence with the service so our guests can return home as soon as possible.”
A few moments later everyone was sorted out and Bryce stood in front of his bride who stared back at him openly with wide eyes.
Eyes the color of the perfect September sky he’d observed earlier while standing on the battlements. He swallowed and looked away. The lass was pretty enough despite her condition. A few good meals and a bath and she’d be much improved. Not that he cared.
He planned to see her to his cottage in the village and be done with her. He’d stay in his small room in the keep.
He’d give her enough of his pay to care for her better than she was currently, but she would be on her own.
His duty to his clan ended with him speaking the words, “I do.”
Dorie blinked up at the man who would be her husband.
At her height, she was taller than many of the men in her clan. And nearly as tall as her brother. But she had to look up at Bryce MacKinlay Campbell.
Even frowning at her the way he was now, he was incredibly handsome. There were so many shades of blond in his long hair she didn’t think any two strands were the same color. Honey, wheat, gold…there was a different name for each hue. And she found she wanted to spend hours assigning each one.
His green eyes glittered even though it was clear he was unhappy. She wondered how bright they would be if he smiled or laughed. Not that he seemed the sort for such frivolous things.
Her new husband was a serious man. He’d hardly said two words as they stood in front of the priest to be married.
The words he did say sounded less than happy about their arrangement.
She hadn’t expected him to want to marry her. Looking at the servants in the hall she knew she was lacking. She didn’t even have shoes. There was no need for shoes or new dresses when she’d spent her life in one room with a few books and a lumpy bed.
She’d never cared about such things. Until now.
Swallowing, she turned toward the priest as he began the ceremony. She’d never been to a wedding before so she didn’t know what to expect. When the priest told her to repeat his words and waited expectantly for her to do so, she could only blink.
“Go ahead, lass,” her groom prompted when she remained silent.
She shook her head, hoping the gesture would explain the problem, but her brother strode forward and grabbed her by the arm.
“You’ll say the words, ye fool. Don’t play with me. I’ve no patience for it today,” Wallace snapped and gave her a hearty shake.
If she did speak, it might be to point out that her brother had no patience any day. Ever. But she didn’t have the chance for he was shaking her again.
“Stop it,” Bryce said, pulling her brother back. “What’s the matter?” he asked, his glowing green gaze on her. “Are you being forced to marry me?”
Again she shook her head; though she hadn’t a say in marrying, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to. Now that she was here before him, she felt that tingle of hope under her breastbone. How much worse could she be here where the servants were better cared for than she?
“She doesn’t speak,” Rory, her younger cousin, explained. A year younger than her, Rory was a gangly lad who had been kind to her when no one was around. When others were close by, he joined in so as not to be teased by the older men.
Bryce’s eyes went wide as the priest mumbled in dissatisfaction. “I canna perform the service if the bride doesna say her vows.”
“She can nod. Then you know she wants to do it,” Wallace suggested while leaning forward to tap her chin.
The priest shook his head. “There’s no proof she has the capacity to understand what she’s agreeing to without her speaking the vows.”
Her brother reached for her, this time smacking her in the back of the head. The force caused her to bite the tip of her tongue. Even if she’d wanted to, it would be difficult to speak now.
“Enough,” Bryce said, drawing his knife. “Touch her again, and I’ll drop you here where we eat our meals. I’d rather not have your bloody carcass sully our hall.”
Her older cousin, Desmond, and Rory were at her brother’s side in a second with their own daggers drawn.
She swallowed and opened her mouth to say something, but before she had the chance the MacKinlay laird shouted that everyone was to put their weapons away.
Her groom was the first to follow the order, slipping his knife in the sheath and putting up both hands in a nonthreatening way.
The other men backed away, glaring. “You better say your vows if you know what’s good for you. If we have to take ye back with us to Baehaven, you might not make the trip,” her brother whispered before stepping away.
Bryce didn’t hear what the McCurdy arse said to Dorie, but her already pale skin went a shade or two lighter, and fear clouded those clear blue eyes.
He didn’t want a wife, but he couldn’t make this woman go back to her family. Not that they acted like family. These were her brother and cousins and they treated her like less than a worm. Even as mad as he was at Lach, he regarded his cousin with more respect than this.
“There must be another way,” Bryce said. He looked around at the other people and spotted Cam and Mari, recalling the way they’d been wed by accident. “We can be handfasted.”
“Handfasting still requires a verbal declaration of intent,” the unhelpful priest replied. It figured they would find the one priest in all the Highlands who was also fluent in the ways of the law.
“Do you know what a promise is, lass?”
Dorie nodded immediately, intelligence clear in her eyes.
“Can ye do this when you want to promise something?” Using his index finger, he drew a cross over his heart.
Another nod and she mimicked the motion.
“Does that make her intent clear, father?”
The priest frowned and let out a huff before agreeing. “Aye. It will do.” He went on to murmur something about the bride having no shoes, but Bryce paid him no mind. Instead he took Dorie’s hand in his.
“Go on then with the vows,” Bryce said, wanting it to be done.
After dealing with the issue of his bride’s silence, things went rather quickly. In no time at all, the priest pronounced them wed. Bryce watched his new wife’s eyes go wide as Lach came forward with his dirk. He nicked Bryce’s skin first and then took her wrist.
When she fought, Bryce reached out to place his hand on her shoulder. She steadied when he gave her a nod.
For all she couldn’t speak, she definitely understood him. And he found he could understand her as well. Mayhap it would be enough.
(C) Allison B. Hanson, Entangled Publishing, 2020. Used with permission from the publisher.
Clan MacKinlay #2
After nine lonely years as her father’s prisoner, Dorie McCurdy is forced to marry the new war chief of clan MacKinlay. Terrified and unwilling to speak, she imagines the worst of her handsome, imposing new husband.
Bryce MacKinlay Campbell’s wife and child were taken by illness years ago, and all he’s wanted since is to be alone. Unfortunately, he is ordered to marry the McCurdy laird’s daughter for an alliance between their clans. He’s appalled by the way his bride is treated by her family when she shows up looking like a ragged, homeless waif. Bryce can provide for her needs, and offer his name, but not his heart–that will never happen again.
In her husband’s strong arms, Dorie slowly emerges from her silence. . . and gradually the ice around Bryce’s heart begins to melt. But when she is unexpectedly offered an annulment, she must choose–stay with Bryce, who she’s fallen in love with but who never wanted her, or choose the unknown possibilities of a different future.
Romance Historical [Entangled: Amara, On Sale: November 30, 2020, e-Book, ISBN: 9781649370853 / eISBN: 9781649370853]
About Allison B. Hanson
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.