In this scene, Kára’s best friend, Brenna, is enduring a very difficult birth, and Joshua gets roped into helping.
“You are the strongest here, and we need her up,” Hilda said. “The babe is coming finally, but it will be easier on them both that way.”
She beckoned quickly to him, and he found himself walking over, inhaling fully to gain strength. But the heat and smells did not help him. ’Tis like birthing a foal, he told himself, which he had done many times before.
He stepped up onto the bed, his boots planting behind the heavily burdened woman. “Do not let her slip,” Kára said, letting him grasp Brenna under her arms. He had no choice but to hold her under her ample bosom.
Just like a mare in trouble. Like a horse. That is all. Done this dozens of times before. If Brenna could only neigh, he would have little problem with this. He opened his mouth to ask but decided against it. No woman he had ever met responded well to being asked to neigh.
Joshua lifted and Brenna groaned, a sound torn from her straining body. Kára leaped up to loop her friend’s arms through the rope. “She is too weak to hold on,” Kára said, looking at him. “Hold her there.”
“Hold her here?” he asked, his voice rising, but she had already jumped down to the floor, leaving him. “Through the entire foaling…birthing?”
“I see a wee foot,” Hilda called from under Brenna’s wet and bloody smock. Joshua kept his gaze focused on the door, the place he longed to go. Nothing would make him look down at all the blood and fluids pouring from the woman. He’d rather watch entrails fall out of a man. Or maybe even his own arm cut clean off. The loss of his own blood would not make him feel more unsteady than he did at that moment.
“Brenna!” Calder yelled from the front room. He pushed the cloth separating the room aside and strode in with another man behind him, a man Joshua knew.
“Pastor John?” Joshua called from his position on the bed. The cleric’s wide-eyed gaze snapped up to meet his. “What are ye doing on Orkney?” The last he saw the young holy man, Pastor John was performing the wedding ceremony between Joshua’s brother, Cain, and Ella Sutherland back in Caithness.
He swallowed, his gaze dropping to Brenna and then back up to Joshua. “Chief Sinclair knew I was headed this way and…” He had to raise his voice to be heard over Brenna’s keening. “And uh… uh… Cain wanted me to see if you were well.” His gaze dropped again to Brenna, one hand going to his own forehead before he looked back up with wide eyes. “Are…are you well?”
Kára’s grandmother threw her arms out to stop him from answering, which was good because Joshua had no idea if he was well or not. “This is women’s work,” Harriett Flett called loudly.
“He is no woman!” Calder shouted, pointing at Joshua.
“Calder?” Brenna asked, and Joshua felt a bit of strength return to her body.
“What the hell is going on?” Calder asked. But Joshua did not have time to answer as the lass yelled again, her body tensing with another wave of pain.
“Dearest Lord, we call upon your blessings. Bring peace and strength,” Pastor John said, closing his eyes and laying one hand on his Bible.
“He is a minister,” Calder said.
“What?” Brenna yelled, the word full of sudden strength. “I am not dying! I need no holy man.” Anger seemed to give her more strength, helping her heels push into the bed under her.
“She is not dying,” Kára added, fury pinching the beautiful determination in her face.
“Not for last rites,” Calder called, dodging around Kára’s grandmother to tip his face up to Brenna’s. “Will you wed with me, Brenna Muir? Right now, before our child enters this world?”
Another contraction pulled her strength, and Joshua braced himself as her muscles contracted. A deep groan issued from her as her entire body tensed.
“Two feet now,” Hilda called. “We must work the shoulders out.”
“Aye, aye,” Brenna panted, her eyes once more opening to focus on the soon-to-be father. Calder waved Pastor John over. Poor fellow looked pale and shocked by the violent scene. Joshua did not blame him. Men were meant to take life from the world and were not meant for the horrors of bringing life into the world.
Calder glanced at the stains on the bed and Brenna’s smock, his face also going pale as his lips opened.
“’Tis like a horse birth,” Joshua called down to them both. “Think of it that way. But do not ask her to neigh.” Everyone in the room, except Brenna, looked at Joshua as if he’d lost his mind. “It will keep ye standing to think of it that way,” he said.
“I…I have not seen a horse birth,” Calder said.
“Well, damn,” Joshua said. “Deep breaths then, I guess.”
A tortured groan came from Brenna, and Pastor John closed his eyes, his lips moving in silent prayer.
“Pastor,” Joshua called down. “Ye best start if your blessing is to come before the bairn.”
His eyes snapped open, and he nodded quickly like a nervous bird. “Do you, Calder Flett, take Brenna Muir to be your wife before God and these witnesses, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, until death do you part?”
“Aye, aye,” Calder breathed.
“And do you, Brenna—”
“Aye,” she screamed. “I take him until death do us part. Aye, forsaking all others…” The last word was drawn out with her wail.
Pastor John drew the sign of the cross in the air. “You two are wed. May God bless you and your child.” Without another word, he fled the room, likely to find some whisky, because that was exactly what Joshua was going to do when he managed to escape.
“Good girl,” Hilda said through another of Brenna’s low cries. “The shoulders…”
Brenna grunted, and her breath flew from her with the sound of… Whatever it was, it sounded wet. Holy bloody hell. Joshua drew in a deep breath to keep his feet beneath him while he held her.
“I have it,” Hilda yelled, pulling out from under Brenna’s smock. She held a bloody, slippery bairn, a thick cord over its shoulders. Kára moved forward, catching the child roughly in a towel, rubbing it. Harriett cut through the fleshy cord with a sharp dagger.
“Lower Brenna slowly,” Hilda instructed. Thank the good Lord, Joshua prayed and bent slowly forward with Brenna.
Thump. Calder was no longer standing.
“I caught his head,” Amma said as she lowered Calder to the stone floor, his eyes closed in unconsciousness.
Kára’s head was bent over the bairn, working frantically as Joshua lowered Brenna to the bed. “Come on, little boy,” Kára whispered in the suddenly quiet room. Joshua held his breath as she worked.
“Clear his mouth,” Hilda said.
A weak cry came from the bairn, and Joshua released his breath. A small sob made Brenna shake, and tears washed down her cheeks, but she smiled weakly at the noise that proved her bairn had made it out of her body alive.
“There is too much blood,” Hilda said. “Kára, knead her abdomen. Harriett, come look at this tear. Do we need to stitch it?”
Tear? Bloody hell! Joshua’s eyes went wide as Kára stepped over Calder, carrying the bairn that she’d wrapped in a fresh blanket.
“What?” he asked. She shoved the tiny bundle into his arms and hurried back to the bed. “Like a baby horse,” she said, a slight grin on her face as her hands went out to massage the new mother’s round abdomen.
He looked down at the blinking little eyes of the bairn. “I will scare it,” he said, but no one paid him any attention except Brenna.
“Smile at him,” she ordered.
He tried but it likely came out like a grimace. The bairn had a spit of dark hair on his head, which was wet with… He did not want to think about it. The lad’s blinks were slow, as if he had drunk too much ale.
“I feel like I need to push again,” Brenna said.
“’Tis the afterbirth needing to come out.” Hilda patted her arm.
“Magairlean,” he murmured, turning his back on the process behind him. He looked down at the wee bairn. His little hand lay across the blanket, his long fingers extended. Were they supposed to be long like that? He looked closer. “Och, but he has wee fingernails,” he said, pushing his thumb under the miniature hand. The bairn’s fingers curled around his thumb, and his breath caught. He chuckled. “Ye have a strong grip.” Joshua glanced down at Calder, who moved a hand to his face, his eyes blinking.
“Ye no doubt got your strength from your mother,” Joshua said to the bairn.
In the background, the women helped Brenna, or at least her lower half while she continued to watch him hold her son. “What will ye name him?” he asked.
“I…I do not know,” she said, exhaustion and joy on her face with brief pinches of pain. “I tried hard not to think of the babe while I carried him so as not to draw death to him.”
He studied the wee face. “I am not your father, little one. He is still on the floor. Perhaps I should not show ye that,” he said and turned away from where Calder struggled to sit up.
“What names are in your family?” Brenna asked him. The wee one still held strongly to his finger.
“My brothers are Cain, Gideon, and Bàs.”
“Bass? Is that short for anything?” she asked.
“It means death in Gaelic. He was born to execute our enemies,” he said, smiling down, his chest full as he studied the bairn’s puckered lips.
“Death?” Brenna screeched. “Give me my babe now,” she yelled.
“Ho now,” Joshua said, turning to her. “’Tis an appropriate name. He is the Horseman of Death.”
“Give him to me!” He dodged Calder, who stood but still propped his hands on his knees. Joshua laid the bundle in Brenna’s arms. She frowned up at him. “What type of mother would name her babe Death?”
He opened his mouth to explain that, since his mother died birthing him, she was Bàs’s first execution, and his father had named him Death. But Joshua had enough common sense to shut his mouth.
“Brenna? You are well?” Calder asked, straightening to his full height. He came around to look down on his fresh new son, and Joshua stepped backward toward the doorway.
Kára had stopped massaging Brenna and straightened. Joshua couldn’t help but glance at Kára’s middle. Had he planted his bairn within her? Would she have to battle to birth it? Would it have tiny fingernails and a grip worthy of a warrior like Brenna’s babe?
As if feeling his stare, Kára met his gaze. Pieces of hair had worked their way out of her braid to frame her flushed face with her pale blond locks. They all must look exhausted from the night of adventure and danger. But the grin on her face, when she looked up from Brenna holding her newborn bairn, lit the darkness under her eyes. Kára Flett was beautiful, and something tightened in Joshua’s chest, something like a cord being tied into a taut knot. Or a noose, depending on how one looked at it.
© Heather McCollum, Scottish Historical Romance [Entangled Publishing, Released 27 April 2021, MMP ISBN: 978-1-68281-570-0 /ebook ISBN: 978-1-68281-592-2]
Sons of Sinclair #2
Joshua Sinclair was once the fiercest and most notorious warrior of the mighty Sinclair clan of Northern Scotland. But now there’s nothing and no one that can make him take up arms again. Except a beautiful woman, it seems.
When Kara Flett, daughter of a fallen Norse chief, finds herself unexpectedly sheltering the strongest, most brutal warrior in the land, she throws together a risky and outrageous plan to bring him to her side. Threats of violence bounce right off him. Offers of gold seem to entice him even less. Desperate enough to use the pleas of the village children to sway him, she’s shocked when he’s completely unmoved. There’s only one tactic left for her: seduction.
Her hasty proposition falls completely by the wayside, though, as she and the Highlander come together in a carnal inferno. But bringing him into her life also brings his enemies to her clan’s doorstep–the very clan Kara is trying to protect. And as their feelings deepen, Joshua will have to decide between duty and love once and for all.
Romance Historical [Entangled: Amara, On Sale: April 27, 2021, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781682815700 / eISBN: 9781682815922]
About Heather McCollum
Heather McCollum is an award winning, historical romance writer. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood of 2009 Golden Heart finalists. The ancient magic and lush beauty of Great Britain entrances Ms. McCollum’s heart and imagination every time she visits. The country’s history and landscape have been a backdrop for her writing ever since her first journey across the pond. When she is not creating vibrant characters & magical adventures on the page, she is roaring her own battle cry in the war against ovarian cancer. Ms. McCollum recently slayed the cancer beast and resides with her very own Highland hero, rescued golden retriever & 3 kids in the wilds of suburbia on the mid-Atlantic coast.