“I do.” Athena had to think where to begin and it took several moments. “Stoneham was one of your father’s most trusted men. He was a mean scunner and everyone knew it except your father, God rest his soul.”
Kevin feared she would start mourning his father so he hurried on. “Did my father find out his true nature?”
“Aye. One night Stoneham beat his wife and thought he had killed her. He knew your father would kill him and he had to think of something fast. The moat and the walls were just started and it was easy for a lad to slip past the guards. He carried her into the woods and left her for the animals to feed on. The next day, he claimed she had wandered off in the night but he didn’t know she...”
Athena looked tortured when she grasped his hand as though she needed his strength. “She crawled on her belly. One of her legs and one arm was broken, but she was determined not to let him get away with it. So she crawled nearly all night. Just after sunrise, one of the guards found her. She begged the guard not to sound the alarm and go get your father instead. The guard took pity on her and did as she asked.”
Kevin moved his chair closer and put his arm around her shoulders. He could see she was ready to collapse and he wasn’t going to let that happen, at least not until he heard it all.
“Your father was so furious he could hardly stand on his own two feet. He carried her inside the Keep, woke your mother and put the lass in his very own bed. By then she had blessedly passed out.”
“But how did father trick Stoneham?”
“He pretended he had not found her and when Stoneham reported his wife missing, he believed your father’s lads were scouring the land looking for her. Your father returned with a scrap of cloth wrapped around a fresh bone and when Stoneham looked relieved, your father no longer had any doubts. He would have struck him dead right then, but he wanted the clan to see so others would remember.”
“I have heard this story.”
“Aye, you have. Your father whipped Stoneham in the glen until he admitted he had beaten the lass. Then he put his sword through the lad’s stomach.”
“But he did not kill him.”
“Nay, he wanted Stoneham to suffer, left him alone in the glen and assumed he would die a slow, painful death in the night. It was a mistake. The next morning, Stoneham was gone and so were three other lads your father thought were loyal. His true followers hunted them down and killed the other three, but Stoneham’s mother was English and he found sanctuary with her family. It was his mother’s name he took.”
Kevin gently encouraged her to put her head on his shoulder before he asked, “Are you the lass?” He wondered if she would cry, but she only nodded. He let her rest for a moment more and then the time came to tell her what the problem was. “Stoneham has chained Anna’s mother to her bed.” Kevin had never seen such fury in a woman.
She leapt out of her chair, grabbed her sword and started out the door. “I will kill the scunner myself!”
He quickly grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back inside. “I will be happy to save you the trouble.”
As Kevin left Athena’s cottage, his jaw was clenched tight when he started to speak to his men, “A MacGreagor did this to my wife. My father should have killed him outright, but he did not and Anna pays for it. I will not make the same mistake!”
In the beginning, Kevin had not planned to spend so much time with a wife. Nevertheless, she was his wife and he thought she would be furious in the morning, when she learned he left without her. She might be even more upset when her guards wouldn’t let her leave, even to ride a horse when she was able. Furthermore, he was worried she would break away from her guard and ride all the way back to England alone. All manner of horrible things could happen to her, he didn’t want that on his conscience too, and asked everyone to keep a close eye on her.
After their evening meal, he asked if she would enjoy another walk and she quickly agreed. Anna was still wearing the gown with the open back, but she walked much better and seemed far more cheerful.
She let him take her hand even though she was certain she wouldn’t fall, and they turned up a different path. The cool air felt good on her back but the warmth of his hand felt even better. They were halfway up the slight incline when she stopped to look at the stars. “I love the stars. Perhaps someday we might sleep outside.”
“You would not mind?”
“Heavens no, I love the outdoors and if you are with me, I will have nothing to fear.”
He liked her honesty. “Are you afraid of what will happen when we consummate our marriage?”
“I was only allowed to spend a few hours with my mother and we did not talk of it much. I am afraid I know very little. Is it the same as horses?”
“In a way, but it is far more enjoyable for people.”
“It does not look enjoyable.” She turned away and started walking again. “I would ask Katie, but she is unmarried.”
“My sister’s husband was lost at sea.”
Anna was surprised. “She never said a word.”
“I do not think she liked him much. She told me he was dull witted.”
“I see, then I will ask Katie.”
“Would you rather ask me?”
It took Anna a full minute to mull it over in her mind. “I have heard it is very pleasing for a lad.”
“‘Tis pleasing for a lass, as well.”
She was sure that wasn’t true and swore she wasn’t ever going to find out. Still, touching him was pleasing. In fact, she could hardly keep from touching him. “Have you any duties in mind for me? I have helped in my father’s house, but I was not very good at it. Besides, I am sure things are done differently here. I do not want to disappoint you, but...”
He stopped walking and waited until she turned to him. “Anna, I will not be disappointed. You are our mistress now and you can have and do anything you like. You can plant flowers, move the furniture, order different food or throw everything out the window. You will please me when you make this your home.” For a second he was worried about the sparkle in her eye and wondered if she really would throw everything out the window.
“I may have anything I like?”
He hesitated. “What is it?”
“I would like you to hold me.”
He was relieved. At least that request he could easily agree to. “I will hold you whenever you like.”
“I would like it now.” She caught the look on his face and decided he found the idea repulsive, so she started to walk on. He didn’t join her and wouldn’t let go of her hand, so she was forced to turn and face him.
“Where precisely can I touch you without hurting you?”
“Oh that, I thought you did not want to.”
“I want to very much.”