Read The Handfasting Online

Authors: Becca St. John

The Handfasting

THE HANDFASTING

Series

BOLD, TANLGED & TORN

BY

Becca St. John

 

The
Handfasting©2013Martha E Ferris

All rights reserved

 

ISBN-13:
978-1492704201

ASIN: B00F3GVB5O

 

Cover Art © 2012 Kelli
Ann Morgan / Inspire Creative Services

www.inspiredcreativeservcies.com

 

This
is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, persons or clans is
entirely coincidental.

 

~
Destiny brought them together ~

 

BOLD

 

Two
stubborn people, each fighting for their own way.

After The MacBede battle cry, “For Our Maggie!” and the impossible
victory it spurs, Talorc the Bold, the Laird MacKay vows to marry the lass for
the power of the clan.
Maggie MacBede refuses to risk her heart to the sword.
Give her a poet, a bard, any man but a fighting man, and she will find her
match.

 

TANGLED

 

Two
passionate people, tangled in a skirmish of love.

Cornered into a Handfasting, a marriage for a year and a day, Maggie
MacBede finds herself plunked into the lap of danger and all because of Talorc
the Bold, the Laird MacKay.

 

TORN

 

Two
powerful people, whose enemies would fight to divide.

An
enemy lurks deep in the belly of the clan sabotaging their Laird. By winning
his bride’s love, Talorc may just lose her life.

 

~
if only for a year and a day ~

 

The Handfasting Series

BOLD

 

Part 1

 

 

 

Dedication

For the generosity and insightfulness of
Judy Kehoe, Sue Weeks and Kathy Long who labored through my first novels.

 

And to all my family – by birth, by
marriage, by choice – you are the reason I write about Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1 - THE MEETING

1224 Scottish Highlands

 

They
could all be dead

Their
bodies strewn across battlefields, lifeless.

Like
her twin, like Ian.

Maggie
MacBede pressed fist to eyes, spun away from her friend and the empty view they
shared. She would not cry. It was Cailleach Bheare, bitter old crone of a north
wind, who stirred up the tears. There was naught to fear. Her brothers would
return.

They
would.

Then
she would kill them herself.

Seven
brothers born, six still alive, and all she could feel was the pain of the
losing. Not that her surviving brothers cared. Och, no, not by half. Ian barely
in his grave and off the great hulking oafs go to battle. Not once, not twice,
but three times in the six months since Ian's death, they leave her to fret and
worry; would they return by foot or bier?  

Caitlin
moved up beside her, slid an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t fuss now.” She
crooned.

Not
fuss? “We’ve been here since daylight, it’s nearly evening now. They should be
here. The messenger said so.”

“They
will be,” Caitlin soothed. “I promise, and the thrill of it will be worth the
wait.”

Maggie
snorted, wrapped her plaid close as she turned back to a bleak view of dark
heather and a black ribbon of river threading its way through a valley shadowed
by ragged hillsides.

No
hint of warriors.

“Maggie,”
Caitlin sidled up beside her. “Don’t you think you’d be knowing if they weren’t
coming? Just like with young Ian.”

Maggie
looked to the gloomy valley as she searched for an explanation. “Ian was
different. He was my twin. We shared dreams. I never had that with my other
brothers.”

“Never
once with the others?” Caitlin frowned. Her husband Alec, one of the men they
watched for, was Maggie’s older brother.

“No.”
Maggie raised her hand, shielding against the last streak of sun as she studied
the horizon.

Caitlin
followed her gaze. “You knew when Ian wasn’t coming back, Maggie. I was there.
You crumbled as if that sword had pierced your own belly. I’ve no doubt you
would do the same for Alec or any of your other brothers.”

“Enough!”
Maggie faced her squarely. “Ian and I were the youngest in a family of strong
men. We needed that closeness or the others would have run right over our wants.
It’s you, Caitlin, who will know when Alec goes. Not me.”

“He
won’t go, though.” Caitlin argued.

“Don’t
be foolish.” Maggie snapped. “Alec is a warrior and warriors die.” She slapped
at her chest, where her heart should be. “And all you feel is the pain of the
losing. That’s all Caitlin.” She eased away. “Just sorrow, hovering over a pit
of numbness.”

“Ah,
Maggie.”

They
both fell silent as the autumn chill seeped through layers of dress and plaid,
through the soles of boots clear into the heart. Finally, Caitlin shook
Maggie’s shoulder. “We’ve been here too long for naught,” she said, “Let’s go
back to the keep.”

“Aye.
No sense waitin’ and freezin’ when the Bold has no care for the kin of his men.”
She grumbled, as she brushed at her plaid.

 “Now
Maggie, you shouldn’t be talking about the Laird that way.” Caitlin started to
sign the cross. Maggie grabbed her hands, stilled them.

“Stop
it. He’s not a bloody saint, Caitlin. He was the one who called Ian to his
death, for a battle that was not even ours to fight.”

“He’s
a great, grand warrior, he is.” Caitlin countered.

Plaid
pulled tight over her head, Maggie closed out the cold. “If he’s so mighty and
great, why does he send messengers to ask our clan to fight? Why can’t he come
himself?”

As
there was no answer to that, Maggie argued on. “Coward outside of battle,
that’s what he is, to send others to call men to death!” Warmth of conviction
coursed through her. “I know his kind, Caitlin.” She shook a finger at
Caitlin’s back, raised her voice as the girl headed up the hill. “He’ll be a
great scarred and ugly man who feasts on wee bairnes for breakfast. He’ll only
have one eye, the other a grotesque pocket of twisted and puckered flesh from
some ancient spear wound.

“Life
means nothing to a man like that. Not without conflict.” Anger spurred her up
the steep climb. “I would love to give him conflict, I would.”

Surprised
by the lack of reprimand, for no one disparaged the Great, Grand Laird MacKay,
Maggie looked up to see Caitlin at the crest of the hill, still as a statue.
She turned, face aglow with tears. “They’re here.” She whispered. “They’ve come
from the other way.”

 “No! 
Oh goodness, no!” Maggie reached the top, grabbed hold of Caitlin’s arm as she
took in the scene before them.

Below,
a train of men and carts crossed under the archway into the courtyard of the
keep. All that commotion and they had been too far to hear it.

 “I
wanted to greet them, and do so properly.” Maggie moaned and set off down the
hill, Caitlin running along beside her.

 “They’re
here!" Her throat stung with the cry as she charged for the keep.

Despite
twenty years and strapping body, Margaret MacBede sailed like a child over the
rough land until she could hear the laughter and voices and shouts of welcome
ahead of her.

Caitlin,
struggling to keep stride, stopped her at the keep entrance. “Will you look at
that?” She asked, breathing heavily. And Maggie did.

So
many men, not all MacBedes, and a slew of animals. Boisterous hurrahs could be
heard from the courtyard, vying with the bawl and bleat of livestock. Wagons
piled with pillaged harvest pushed through the mélange.

Her
brothers returned with more goods than had been stolen from the MacBedes in
three seasons past. Her kin had championed their clan. Thank the skies. These
highlanders would eat this winter.

The
reward was to more than their bellies. It had been a long wait since they'd
heard the victor's song. Too much stolen from them with no successful recourse.
Too many lives sacrificed to no gain.

“Come
on!” She shouted to Caitlin.

Skirts
held high and out of the way, heedless of others, Maggie hurtled forward, straight
into the huddle of her brothers and leapt, without warning, into the arms of
her brother, Jamie.

“What
have we here?” Jamie held her straight out from him, as though she weighed no
more than a straw doll. She dangled in midair, her grasp firm on his arms. No
small lass, she towered over other women and quite a few of the men folk, but
she thrilled to the knowing she would never outsize her brothers.

Just
in time, Maggie tensed, held her body straight and true, arms crossed at her
chest, legs twined about her skirts to hold them secure. As she knew
he would, Jamie tossed her in the air, parallel to the ground, tested the
weight of her, same as he would test the weight of a caber.

“I
think I’ve found the biggest faerie in the land,” Jamie mused.

“Biggest
faerie?” Nigel shouted. “Here, toss it here. It looks naught but a mass of hair
and plaid to me.”

Maggie
gasped at the outrageous slur, as she sailed through the air to be caught yet again.
Her childish cry sounded the delight, for she loved the game, loved to fly as
though nothing could pull her to earth.

Nigel
caught her neatly, adding a spin as he tossed her high again. Maggie pulled in
tighter, lest a flailing limb strike out at her brother.

“Aye,
‘tis naught but a mass of rusty red fur and rags.”

She
rethought the striking out business, but there was no time for action. Airborne
and twirling, Maggie shut her eyes against the dizziness of it.

“Umph!”
It was Douglas this time. “Can’t be our Maggie.” He groaned, “Too heavy for our
light, little Maggie. Here.” Maggie pulled in, prepared for the toss. “You see
if she’s not too fat!”

She
should have hit while she could.

Douglas
hurled her with an ease that belied his goading. This twirl she landed face to
the skies, eyes wide.

Good
Lord!  She’d not landed in the hands of another brother, and well she knew it. Nay,
these hands were even greater in size. They nearly spanned her waist and it was
no small waist. But it was not the size that felt so different. It was . . . oh
goodness, she didn't really know what it was other than to know she had never
felt it before.

Bounced,
a test of weight, like the jostle of a bag of coins to guess their worth. With
each landing, shivers quivered through her, his touch an arrow that found its
mark, candle to flame. A horrible, strange thing.

She
cried out, when the man spun her to face the ground. To face him. A stranger as
rugged and beautiful as the mountains surrounding them. He had the high
cheekbones so common among their clan, yet they did not look common. Dark
eyebrows raised in humor, as the lines of his face fitted easily to his smile.

She
recognized him, in the way a moment or a thing can be familiar even though it
is not. She knew just how wavy his hair would be if it weren’t pulled back and
tied by a bit of leather. That it was not really black, as it looked now pulled
tight against his head, but more the color of cinnamon when moist. The slash of
eyebrows, emphasizing his pleasure, could as easily pull into a frown just as
eyes, sparkling with merriment right now, could be as blue and cold as ice in winter.

She
knew it, knew it all, though he was a stranger with no right to be holding her
at all. No right to laughter when she was a riot of confusion.

No
right for him to look as though he knew her as well.

He
played with her senses.

She
batted at his arm. He stilled, holding her aloft. Eye to eye, she stared, wary
and vulnerable, fearing he could see deep into her very soul, before he gave a
sharp nod of satisfaction with her none the wiser why.

She
glowered at his smug audacity. How dare he take liberties just because he had
arrived with her kin. So what if looks like his could make a lesser women
swoon. Maggie refused to be taken by looks. There were plenty of handsome men
to be found in the highlands. She would take that smirk from his face.

Tossed
again, grandly high, Maggie was too confused and angry to thrill in it.
Instead, mid-air, she glared at Douglas for being the traitor who passed her to
this man.

“Nay,
Douglas,” the man boomed, hearty voice for a hearty man. Her head snapped back,
scowl intact. “Feisty but not fat.”  He had the gall to squeeze her waist with
each landing bounce though his eyes were focused higher than her waist, lower
than her shoulders.

Maggie
shifted her arms, crossed on her chest, to better hide her bosom. He winked.

“Not
fat at all.”

She
swiped at him again, toppled so he had to side step to catch her. “Nor too
lean.”   His smile broadened, which she’d not thought possible. “To my mind,
Douglas,” slowly he lowered Maggie, “Aye.” He nodded thoughtfully. “’Tis true,
to my mind she is just rrrright!” His relished R’s tumbled through her in a
chaotic dance.

The
moment Maggie felt the purchase of land, she shoved away from the man, stepped
back on legs that wobbled, straightened her plaid with hands that trembled too
much to manage. In defiance of any weakness, she lifted her chin.

He
towered over her, a massive brute of a man. It was no surprise he could toss
her high. His muscle-corded arms were the size of cabers themselves. His chest,
och, he had naught covering it but a width of plaid. Not that anything would
fit across that expanse.

He
was nothing of the sort that Maggie could appreciate. She liked her men long
and lanky, with more brain than brawn. This man was all brawn. She doubted he
had a brain, not if he’d be playing with her while her brothers watched. They’d
get him for that, just as they dealt with any man who looked at her sideways.

She
shot a glance toward each of them, and with every sighting her confidence fell.

Nigel,
James and Douglas all beamed at her. Her oldest brother, Feargus the younger,
strode up to the man and slapped him on the back. They both laughed at some
hidden story. Feargus' friendly pats could send a man reeling. Not this one,
which made her brothers even more genial.

All
right then, if her brothers would not stand against him, then Maggie would. She
would stand strong and firm, just as she did with her brothers. It was the only
way to win concessions with their lot.

A
toss of her head shifted her hair off her shoulders. She straightened her back,
showed her own strength, like mare to stallion. His smile quirked, displayed a
mouth full of straight white teeth. He sent a nod to her brothers, Crisdean and
Alec, who had just pushed their way into the crowd. Both grinned back. Even her
da looked ready to explode with mirth.

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