“Are you accustomed to drinking so much?” he asked.
“I am not accustomed to drinking at all. I believe this is only my second time. Harold gave me some when I was injured before and it eased my pain.”
“You will fall flat on your face if you have more.”
“Do you fall flat on your face after drinking wine?”
“Nay,” he admitted.
“Then neither will I.”
“I do not drink that much. A lad knows his limit.”
“And a woman does not?”
“Not one who is unaccustomed to drinking.”
“My, but you are a stubborn man.”
Katie was thoroughly enjoying the banter between them. She noticed the gleam in her brother’s eye, knew Kevin was enjoying it as well and she was thrilled. He needed a way out of his loneliness and she hoped a wife would help. Anna obviously had a sharp mind and was not intimidated by her brother. Indeed, Anna was going to be more than a help -- he was going to love her whether he wanted to or not. Perhaps now she could think about a marriage for herself.
“Why did you marry me?” Anna was asking.
“Why?” he hesitantly asked.
“Yes, why? You are surrounded by beautiful women, yet you chose me sight unseen. There must be a reason.” Anna was concentrating on his reaction and didn’t notice the swell in the chests of the serving women when Katie repeated her words in Gaelic.
He looked at his sister for help, but now Katie was looking down at her food and appeared to be choosing what she would eat next.
Anna reached over and lightly covered his hand with hers. “You can tell me. I am your wife, but I hope to be your friend as well. I promise I will not be offended.”
“I wanted sons,” he admitted finally.
“And no other woman can give you sons?”
He was trapped, in a way he had never felt trapped before, and there was simply no way out of it. How could he tell her he loved another? Well, it couldn’t be helped, she would find out eventually anyway. “I once saw a lass…,” he began, trying to carefully choose his words.
“Did you think she was handsome?”
He couldn’t help himself. “She was more than handsome, she was...” He stopped, wondering how the devil he was going to get through this.
“Please continue; I want to know all about her.”
“She was on a horse.”
Anna’s heart leapt.
Katie could hardly believe what she was seeing. Kevin was Laird over hundreds and one little woman was making him squirm like a guilty child. She glanced at the two women standing behind him and noticed they were completely enjoying Anna’s audacity, even though they couldn’t understand a word of it.
Anna didn’t look away and didn’t move her hand, which prevented him from eating. “The lass was on a horse and what?”
He cleared his throat and decided not to elaborate on the woman’s beauty. “It was not so much her appearance, as it was the love she and the horse shared. I have never seen anything like it.”
“Nay, I have said quite enough. Talk of something else.”
“Does everyone else know about this woman?”
“Good, then I will ask one of them.”
Kevin slumped. “What more do you wish to know?”
“Well, what did the woman do to make you think she and the horse cared for each other?”
“Tricks, but it was not the tricks that impressed me, it was the way she trusted him with her life. The horse could have killed her, but somehow, I knew he would not.” Once he got started, Kevin couldn’t seem to stop himself. “And she used no bridle nor signaled with her arms. Instead, she talked to him and the horse knew exactly what to do.”
Anna finally removed her hand, relieved him of his misery, and smiled. “Thank you for explaining. We will not talk of this again.” She hoped no one could tell how fast her heart was beating. Kevin not only remembered her, he talked like a man in love. He had chosen an unseen woman, because he couldn’t have the one he really wanted. If only he knew the woman in his heart was sitting right beside him. Someday, she might just tell him.
He often dreamed about the woman with the black stallion. It was a pleasant dream, filled with blue skies, wild flowers, love, hope and laughter. But this night the dream was dark, the horse was mean, the woman fell and he woke up with a start. As soon as he shook the memory out of his mind, he went to check on his wife.
Her door was open and she wasn’t in bed. Instead, she was still dressed and standing at the window again.
“Anna, you need to rest.”
“I have rested most of the day. Now I need to think.”
“Would you like my company?” She didn’t say no, so he stayed. He leaned against the wall near the window and waited for a long time before she spoke again.
“My mother is chained to her bed.”
Anna raised her hand to stop him. “Please, let me get this said. It is not easy for me.” She paused to collect her thoughts again, turned toward him and continued. “She tried to leave my father when Rachel was a baby, so he chains her and locks the door to her bedchamber. The only time he lets her out is to bathe. You see, he holds us captive, all of us, even the servants. When we do something that displeases him, he punishes my mother.”
Kevin hung his head.
“We have tried everything to save her. We even sent a plea to the king, but my father is a very clever man. He does not hurt her where it will show and if she does not obey him in front of company, he threatens to kill one of us. The king even came, believed she was fit and dismissed our plea.”
“Was it your father who beat you?”
She hesitated, wondering if she should admit it. Kevin was guessing, but if she said ‘no’ he would find out and hate her for lying. Besides, it was too late to stop now. “Yes.”
“I will kill him.” He watched her carefully to judge her reaction, but she remained calm.
“I have often vowed to do the same.” She took a deep breath, “God help me, I have thought about it far more often than is fitting for a woman.”
“What stopped you?”