“Here.” He helped her sit up and brought the water to her mouth, encouraged her to drink it.
“Are you well, Tara?” Lora asked.
“No. Yes, Oh God! Can one of you explain why the men acted as though we’re married?” She looked to Lora and Duncan, who both exchanged glances.
“Handfasting is equal to marriage in this time.”
Lora told her. “The men will look at you as Duncan’s wife from this day forward.”
“What?” Tara moved to stand up, only to have Duncan hold her in her seat.
“Try and understand, the men will assume you and I, that we…” His words choked on themselves in the presence of his mother. “If a child were to come, its legitimacy will never be in question.”
“I can see by your expressions, Ian was right in doing this,” Lora said, eyeing them both.
“Mrs. MacCoinnich, may I speak with your son in private please?”
“Of course.” She kissed Tara’s cheeks. “Welcome to the family.”
Tara took a long drink from the glass of water, wishing for something stronger. “You saw this coming? Didn’t you?”
“When he asked if I was speaking for you, I knew.”
“So they all think we’re married? But we’re not really? Right?”
He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it. “Duncan?”
“To everyone, we are married, Tara. Vows given before God are all that need to come.” He looked at her now, into her.
“Don’t we have any say in this?”
“My father gave me say. I chose you.”
“What about me? Don’t I have any say in any of this?” She took a small breath, his words sank in.
“You chose me?” She stopped, took a breath and smiled. “Really?”
“I should have some say. Don’t you think? I mean, I’m from the future, your dad knows that. In my time, we have a fifty, fifty say in marriage.” She stood up and started to pace. “Shouldn’t I have some say in whether or not I’m married to another person?
“Good. We agree. I should have a say.”
“Do you know you’re beautiful when you rant?”
She waved off his compliment. “Don’t distract me. It’s nice to know you’re not pigheaded like your father, I mean…”
“Would you choose me, if you had a choice?”
“Of course I’d choose you. Didn’t I already do that?” She rolled her eyes and flipped her hair back.
She’d given him her virginity for goodness sake and he held a big clump of her heart in his hands. “Still, a woman should be asked. Given a choice. It’s supposed to be the most defining moment in a woman’s life. Well, maybe not mine. But then again how many women go back in time six or so centuries? Huh?”
“Tara?” He stood in front of her, stopping her pacing.
“What?” Her ranting had almost run out.
“Will you marry me?”
“…six centuries is a long time to… What?” Oh God, did she miss it? Her head started to clear.
Duncan stood holding her hands, looking in her eyes. “Will you marry me, Tara? Will you take me and my name and all it holds? Will you give any child that may even now be forming or any future children my name?” He placed his hand on her flat stomach. “Will you be my wife?”
She melted. Putty. A big fat pile of goo all over the floor in a sixteenth century castle in the middle of Scotland. “What?”
His hands caught her head, focused her eyes.
“Marry me, Tara.”
Tears caught behind her lids, “Really? You’re not asking because your dad…?”
“Ian has nothing to do with this. There is always a choice.”
Her world shifted. Everything, which was off balance only minutes before, settled, much like dirt after an earthquake.
“Yes.” Was there any other answer? “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
The night was pitch black, not even a wayward star could be seen peaking through the clouds, sitting layer upon layer on themselves. The evening brought with it a cold, which settled into her bones, making her feel every aching joint and muscle. The leg she had broken from throwing herself into the vortex was almost healed.
Grainna thought of the night she returned to her homeland and the time of her reign. She was never one to believe in luck, but had no other word for how she escaped notice from Tara, Duncan and Fin. Rain and thunder met them when they had arrived, disguising her presence, and giving her a chance to flee.
The first days had been a scalding reminder of how harsh living in the sixteenth century was. Being immortal had its advantages, otherwise hunger would have weakened her body and claimed her existence.
Gypsies had found her and with little effort, Grainna willed their minds to take her with them.
To her, gypsies were nothing but a pack of filthy thieves who could not be trusted. Their knowledge of the land, and the people in it is what she sought.
Once her body recovered, she would leave their side.
Without boundaries or markers, the caravan took to the west.
“Why have we changed direction?” she asked.
“We skirt outside of MacCoinnich’s land, our presence there would not be tolerated.” The driver spit a long dark stream from his lips. “Laird Ian would not allow our type anywhere near his people.
Grainna’s eyes leveled in the direction they were leaving. “Does MacCoinnich have sons?”
“Aye, three, Duncan, Finlay, and Cian.”
Vengeance formed into a ball of heat in her chest. Swallowing hard, Grainna studied the landscape in an effort to memorize her way back.
The men who helped Tara escape would pay.
She settled back in her seat. Her weariness was fueled by a lack of sleep and pain. In her weariness, she plotted another’s demise.
In the end, she would have her revenge. With every breath, she felt her strength returning. The forest was rich with the elements of her past spells, giving her all she needed to once again rule over this land…and destroy those she didn’t want in it.
Long summer nights drifted slowly into autumn. Leaves started to fall and a bite in the air brought with it a hint of a change in the weather.
The priest was due to arrive in less than two weeks. His time at the MacCoinnich’s Keep would be filled with more than one exchange of vows. Two other couples had been handfasted over the year since the priest had been there. To no one’s surprise, Haggart and Celeste asked the priest to wed them as well. Tara’s rooms were moved next to Duncan’s. An adjoining door made their path each night less obvious to anyone watching the halls. Duncan often teased Tara about her ruse to keep their intimacies from the servants. “They are not stupid, my love. To them, we are married.”