Must Love More Kilts
“So you’ve returned,” Duncan rasped, the words catching, slicing through a too-dry throat. “The woman who one moment handfasted with me”—he swallowed to ease his throat and blinked, hoping to keep the phantasm in view—“and the next turned me out of bed in disgust.”
Was…was the lovely nighean wiping his brow indeed his Fiona?
Ach, fever-addled his mind was. The handfasting, her disappearance… But that was several weeks past. More events had transpired, he was sure.
Sharp pain speared his shoulder and filtered across his chest, a reminder.
“What happened?” The words scratched past his parched throat, but he’d be damned if he let that stop him. Wincing, he rolled upward, but his muscles protested, and he dropped back against the unforgiving mattress, jarring the pain in his shoulder. The movement set his world spinning, his head strangely a-whirl. Mo Chreach, what ailed him?
He clamped his eyes closed, as if to shield his roiling stomach.
A warm hand pushed against his chest, the touch gentle but firm. “Easy now,” her melodious, oddly accented voice said near his ear.
Day and night that voice had haunted him since first he’d heard it.
She pushed her arm under his shoulders and gripped him tight, the fabric of her clothing cool against his heated skin. Her scent, like the freshest grass in spring and the sweetest flowers, enveloped him. “Try to drink this.” She raised him slightly.
He cracked an eye open again. Aye. ’Twas Fiona. Feverish he might be, but never could he be forgetting the night she secretly pledged herself to him and then pushed him away.
Nor could he ignore how her nearness now acted as a balm. A balm which soothed his confusion and pain.
His eyes had a dry, dragging weight to them. He blinked. Forced them open. Though darkness cloaked the room, save a lone, flickering candle near the bed, he recognized the bare stone walls and sparse furniture of his own chamber. How…?
“It wasn’t disgust.” Her voice was small, tentative.
Before he could reply, she pressed the tin cup to his mouth, the metal cool against his parched, dry lips. He took a sip, quickly swallowing. Bitter. Metallic. Not as putrid as old Hamish’s concoction. Och, she could be poisoning him, to be sure, but his mind was so clouded, his body so racked with pain, that he cared not.
He eased back against the pillow and closed his eyes, the exercise strangely exhausting.
“What happened?” he asked again.
“What do you remember?”
Smoke from the discharge of hundreds of rifles and the scattered cannon of the Williamites. Confusion as the battle waged in the twilight. The vacant eyes of their chieftain fixed on the blue-night sky. And then… “Yourself. And Traci appearing at the battle. Dundee, shot.”
“No,” she whispered. He shouldn’t find even the tone of her voice lovely, but curse him, he did. “You were shot. You took the bullet meant for him.”
Shot. He edged his hand up his chest, the action disconcertingly hard to achieve. His fingers searched, touched. Met with stiff fabric. That explained his shoulder. The ungodly pain. But he’d suffer that and more if it meant Dundee lived.
Did he? “And Dundee? Iain?” He dropped his arm back to his side.
“Both survived the battle.”
A light feeling suffused him, the relief easing the last of his tension, though it highlighted the pain clamping down on his shoulder, throbbing. “I must be going to the great hall. Help me arise, woman.”
She pushed against him, her enticing scent shrouding him anew. Near her elbow, the candle lent enough light to caress the gentle, sloping line of her neck, delicate jaw, round cheek, and…
Holy Mother. Those eyes. Those gray-blue, intelligent but playful eyes. Eyes that had also drawn him that first night they’d met.
So enthusiastic, she’d been. Her smiles. Och, made just for him they seemed, though he’d told himself it couldn’t be so. But as the night spun onward, and his defenses crumbled, he’d thought… Well, he thought he’d finally found the one person who made him feel wanted for himself, not for what he could do for them. Aye, he’d finally and inexplicably felt at home.
As they handfasted in secret, trusting his instincts, he spun fancies as to the shape of their shared life. The little ones they’d create together. The belonging he’d feel. Already felt.
However, when they were to lay together, she recoiled, and he cursed himself for a fool. Cursed the whisky he’d consumed. For he’d forgotten his heart’s poor judgment. Longing speared through him anew, rivaling the pain in his shoulder.
Concern marred her forehead, but he’d be unwise to believe it meant anything more. They’d handfasted, aye, but that meant nothing if the other didn’t acknowledge it. Especially in these modern times with the Kirk frowning on such declarations, and with no witnesses.