Never Seduce a Scot eBook: Page2

Maya Banks (2012)

Page 2

“Tavis, you can’t allow this!”

Eveline could barely make out the words as they passed her mother’s lips. Her face was tear-stained. All over a wedding? Eveline frowned. None of this made sense.

Tavis put a restraining hand on his wife’s arm and then turned just enough that Eveline could see him angrily bite out to her brother Aiden, “Take your mother away from here. ”

Robina Armstrong shook her head fiercely, resisting Aiden’s grip. “This is madness. He can’t feed her to the wolves that way. ’Tis not right! She’s not able to perform her marriage duties. This is a travesty, Tavis. It cannot be allowed to stand. ”

An uneasy sensation prickled down Eveline’s spine. She was starting to have a very bad feeling about just what had her family in such an uproar. Wedding? Her mother in tears? Unable to perform marriage duties? Feeding to the wolves? Who were the wolves?

The king’s messenger frowned, obviously not liking the hostile environment he’d landed himself in. “The king has decreed it so. Graeme Montgomery and Eveline Armstrong will marry. ”

Eveline clamped a hand over her mouth even though she hadn’t said a word in well over three years. The reaction was automatic, to quiet the silent cry that billowed up from her very soul.

She whirled around, not wanting to witness any more. She fled the keep, nearly tripping down the stone steps in her haste. Gathering her skirts in tight fists, she ran over the uneven terrain behind the keep and into the grove of trees lining a stream that fed a nearby loch.

Instinctively, she sought out the large boulder that jutted out over the water. There, the stream ran faster, bubbling over larger stones and rocks. She imagined the sound, holding it like a fleeting memory. It had been so long since she’d last heard anything that the memories of sound were fading.

She mourned that loss. Before, she could sit on her rock and remember the gurgling sounds, the rush of the water and the peace it brought her. Over time, those phantom sounds faded into nothing. A blank void she felt herself slipping further into all the time.

Hunching her knees up so she could rest her chin atop them, she closed her eyes, but then quickly opened them. A world without sound and sight frightened her.

Married.

Betrothal was what had wrought the deception she’d maintained for the last three years. Tragedy had befallen her, but it had also rescued her from an unwanted marriage—a marriage her father had been determined to make happen.

How was it possible? Panic clawed at her throat at the idea of leaving her sanctuary. She was loved here. Cherished. No one thought ill of her—or at least no one dared to voice such an opinion aloud. Her father would spit the person on his sword who disparaged his only daughter in any way.

But she knew what they said behind her back. Some of the more unkindly ones. Or rather not to her back, but in her sight. Daft. Mad. Touched. Poor lass. Never a use to anyone.

They were wrong, but she wouldn’t correct them. It was too dangerous to do so.

She’d been betrothed to Ian McHugh. It was a match highly pursued by Ian’s father, the chieftain, and a match that her father finally approved of. Her father was careful with the alliances he made, and Patrick McHugh was one of the few people he seemed to trust. The two men could even be called friends. It was only natural that a marriage be arranged between Tavis’s only daughter and McHugh’s heir.

Ian, however, was not the charming man he appeared to be. Outwardly, he was perfect. The epitome of a gentleman. He’d won her mother over and had, in fact, gained the blessings of Eveline’s overprotective brothers.

But beneath the façade was a man who struck terror in Eveline’s heart. He’d taunted her with promises of what marriage would be like to him and then laughed when she’d vowed to take the matter up with her father. He’d told her that no one would ever believe the aspersions she’d cast on his character. She hadn’t believed him until she’d gone to her father to do as she’d threatened.

Her father had not been unkind, but he’d also put her accusations down to maidenly fears. He’d promised her that all would be well and that Ian would make her a good husband. And that furthermore, Ian was a just and honorable man.

Worse, Ian openly courted and wooed her in front of her family. He visited often, making grand gestures of devotion. He played his part to perfection. He had her entire clan eating out of his hand. Only in private did Eveline see into the soul of overwhelming evil.

Eveline sighed and bowed her head to her knees, allowing her skirts to billow over her legs. Secrets. So many secrets. So many lies.

She’d loved to ride horses, but she was never allowed to ride alone—the threat of the Montgomerys was ever present and her father feared what would happen should his daughter fall into the hands of their mortal enemies.

One morning she’d gone to the stables, saddled her own horse, and had taken off riding. Only it was no simple ride she was taking. She had planned to run away. A foolhardy, impetuous decision that haunted her to this day.

She didn’t even know if she would have gone through with it, if she would’ve had the courage to leave the boundaries of Armstrong land. After all, how was a young girl, alone and without the protection of her family, to survive?

That simple act of desperation had cost her more than she could have ever imagined. She had guided her horse on a path they’d trod many times, along a steep ravine where a river carved its way through, making a small canyon. When her horse had stumbled, she was thrown over his back and had plummeted down the ravine.

She had no clear recollection of what happened next, only of being scared and alone, her head aching vilely. And the cold. The bone-numbing cold and the passage of time.

She’d awakened in her chamber to a world of silence. She hadn’t understood, hadn’t known how to make her ailment known. Her throat was swollen and she suffered a fever for many long days. Even if she’d wanted to speak, the mere effort caused her too much pain and so she’d remained silent, bewildered by the quietness surrounding her.

Later, she would be made to understand that she’d lain close to death for over a fortnight. The healer had noted swelling of her head and had worried her fever was such that it had caused damage to her mind. Perhaps in the beginning, Eveline had believed her.

Then there were times when Eveline thought that losing her ability to hear was punishment for her fateful decision to rebel against her father. It had taken her a long time to adjust, and she was too shamed to tell her parents the truth. They’d looked at her with such disappointment and such devastation in their eyes, and perhaps she would have found the courage to tell them all and to explain to them that she could no longer hear, but then the McHughs had come to her father, demanding to know of Eveline’s condition.

Unable to gain assurance that Eveline was hale and hearty, Ian was quick to break off the betrothal, and who could blame him? Not even her father could find fault with a man who didn’t want a wife whose mental awareness was in question.

She hadn’t wanted to admit to having lost her hearing because she’d secretly hoped that it would be miraculously restored. One day she’d awaken and all would be well again.

It was a ridiculous notion, but she’d clung to that hope until it became clear that her apparent daftness was her salvation.

So the lie began. Not one spoken, but of omission. She allowed her family, her clan, to believe her affected by her accident because it protected her from the possibility of marriage to a man she despised and feared.

And it wasn’t one she could later rectify, because as long as Ian remained unmarried, were it to be discovered that her only fault was deafness, he could easily petition to have the betrothal reinstated.

It was a deception that grew and took on a life of its own, and the longer it went on, the more helpless she felt to correct it.

Only now it was all for naught because she’d traded one marriage to the devil’s son for the devil himself, and this time she was powerless to prevent it from happening.

She shuddered, pressed her forehead once again to her knees, and rocked back and forth.

Graeme Montgomery.

Just the name struck fear in her heart.

The feud between her clan and his clan had existed for five decades. Eveline couldn’t even remember what had started the whole bloody disagreement, but bloody it had been. Graeme’s father had been killed by her grandfather, a fact that Graeme would never forgive.

The Montgomerys lived to harass, steal from, ambush, or spill the blood of any living Armstrong. Her father and brothers could swear no differently. They’d run a Montgomery through with a sword for no bigger sin than breathing.

None of it made sense to her, but then she was supposed to be a delicate little flower of a woman who had no head for such matters even when she was believed to be in her right mind.

She rubbed absently at her forehead, feeling one of her headaches coming on. They always started at the base of her skull and worked to behind her ears, pressure building until she wanted to scream for the pain.

But she couldn’t vocalize anything. She had no way to measure how loudly or softly she spoke. She wanted no one to know of her inability to hear. And so she remained solidly entombed by silence.

She felt rather than heard someone’s approach. Since the loss of her hearing, her other senses had heightened. It bewildered her, but she found especially that she could feel things more keenly. Almost as if she picked up the slightest vibrations in the air.

She turned to see Brodie approaching, his expression grim, but it lightened in relief when he saw her sitting on her rock.

Brodie was the one she’d most miss if she was truly to wed the Montgomery chieftain. She could barely breathe for wanting to cry and her throat knotted uncontrollably.

He said something as he approached, but it was lost on her because his mouth was shielded by a limb. When she continued to stare at him, he made a show of letting out a sigh and then sat on the rock beside her, just as he’d done so many times before.

Brodie always knew where to find her. Knew all her secret hiding places. There wasn’t anywhere she could go that he didn’t already know of.

He reached for her hand, swallowing it up in his much larger one, and he squeezed. His lips started to move again, and she strained forward so she could see what it was he said.

“You’re needed in the keep, little chick. ”

She loved that he called her that and she didn’t even know why. It was an endearment, almost always said with an indulgent smile. Only today, there was no smile. Only deep desolation in his eyes and lines of worry etched into his brow.

Not wanting to cause him any more upset, she put her other hand in his and waited for him to stand and pull her up beside him. It was better if she not act as though she knew. Perhaps she could play dumb about the entire thing. Surely if the king knew how unsuitable she was for marriage, he wouldn’t sanction such a thing.

That thought cheered her considerably as she walked beside her brother back toward the keep. Her father had always said that the king was a fair and just ruler. That he’d brought peace to the highlands by signing a treaty with England.

If his representative was to be in attendance for the event, then surely after seeing her, he would call a halt to the marriage and report back to the king her unsuitability for the role assigned to her.

CHAPTER 3

Eveline tried to remain calm as Brodie led her into the great hall, though it was hard when her heart pounded furiously against her chest.

Her father was pacing before the hearth and her other brother, Aiden, sprawled in a chair at the large wooden table, rage burning in his eyes as his foot tapped a sharp staccato on the floor.

Eveline honed in on her mother and father, wanting desperately to know what it was they said. She pried her hand from Brodie’s and moved so she could better see.

“Tavis, you cannot allow this to stand!”

Eveline’s father grasped her mother’s shoulders, holding them tightly. He stared back at her with tortured, angry eyes.

“The king has decreed it, Robina. I cannot naysay him. ”

Robina yanked away, turning more toward Eveline, her eyes red and puffy, distress radiating from her in waves. Then her gaze lighted on Eveline and her expression grew even more stricken.

She hurried forward, putting an arm around Eveline’s shoulders, squeezed her tightly, and then bore her forward. Eveline could feel her mother trembling against her, and she worked even harder to keep her own countenance serene as they approached her father.

Tavis lifted his hand, and it shook noticeably as he put it gently to Eveline’s cheek. Unable to stand the grief in his eyes, Eveline turned her face into his palm and rubbed.

“My baby. My most precious gift. Our king has turned against us. ”

He dropped his hand down and put it to the back of his neck, then turned away. Eveline frowned, not wanting to miss any of what he might be saying.

“You must beseech him, Tavis,” Robina said, touching her husband’s arm to turn him back. “Perhaps he knows not of Eveline’s condition. ”