The MacKinnon's Bride

By: Tanya Anne Crosby


Prologue





Chreagach Mhor, Scotland 1118


Iain, laird of the MacKinnons, descendant of the powerful sons of MacAlpin, paced the confines of the hall below his chamber like an overeager youth.

So much hope was affixed upon this birth.

Now, at last, thirty years of feuding with the MacLeans would come to an end. Aye, for how could auld man MacLean look upon his grandbairn and not want peace? After a year full of enmity from his bonny MacLean wife—a year of trying to please her only to meet with stony disapproval and wordless accusations—even Iain felt burgeoning hope for how could she look upon their babe, the life they’d created together, and not feel some measure—some small measure, of affection?

Despite the past hostilities between their clans, his own resentment dissipated in the face of this momentous occasion, and though he couldn’t say he’d loved her before this moment, he thought he might now, for she lay abovestairs, struggling—and a heinous struggle it was—to gift their babe with its first wondrous breath of life.

She was havin’ his bairn.

Ach, but he was proud of her.

As difficult as the birth was proceeding, she’d borne her pain with nary a scream, nary a curse, though he’d never have begrudged her either. In truth, her shrieks might have been far easier to bear. Her silence was tormenting him. He couldn’t help but be nerve-racked by the thought of his young wife in the throes of her labor, for his own mother had died just so, giving him life. Guilt over it plagued him still.

Iain lengthened his stride.

What if the birth killed her?

What if he killed her?

’Twas a fear he’d borne from the first day he’d lain his hands upon her in carnal pleasure, and it wouldn’t be eased now until he saw her face once more. God’s truth, but he would welcome even her sullen glances this moment. He’d bear them for the rest of his days if only she’d live through this punishing birth. In fact, he swore that if his touch was truly so unbearable for her, he’d touch her no more. He’d grant her anything her heart desired—anything—and if she desired him not, then so be it.

If she died... where, then, was their peace?

Damn MacLean, for he’d as lief be—

The glorious sound of a babe’s newborn wail resounded from above, a rapturous siren that froze Iain in midstride.

He found he couldn’t move, could do little more than stare at the stone steps that led to his chamber, joy and fear holding him immobilized.

It seemed forever before he heard the heavy door above swing open and then the hastening footsteps.

Maggie, his wife’s maid, appeared on the stairwell. “A son, laird!” she exclaimed, shouting down happily. “Ye’ve a son!”

Those beautiful words freed Iain from his stupor. Yelping euphorically, he bolted up the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time in his haste to see his wife and a first glorious glimpse of his newborn son. “A son!” he said in marvel, passing Maggie as she hurried down to spread the news. She nodded, and joy surged through him. He wanted to kiss her fiercely—aye, Even Maggie.

Not even the midwife barring him entrance at the door diminished his spirits.

The woman who had so long ago helped to deliver him unto the world thrust out her arms to keep him from entering his chamber. “She doesna wish to see you, Iain.” The piteous look that came over her face sent prickles down his spine. “No’ as yet, she doesna.”

He braced himself to hear the worst. “Is she—”

“As well as can be expected. The babe didna wish to come is all.” She lowered her eyes, averting her gaze.

The babe was no longer crying.

“What is it, Glenna?” Fear swept through him. Unable to help himself, he seized her by the arms and fought the urge to thrust her aside, to see for himself. “What o’ the babe?”

She tilted him a sympathetic glance. “Dinna y’ hear him, lad? Your son is a fine wee bairn. Listen closer,” she bade him.

He did, and he could hear the babe’s soft shuddering coos.

His gaze was drawn within the darkened chamber.

The midwife must have felt his tension, his indecision, his elation, his confusion, for she stood firm when he tried to nudge her aside. “Iain... nay,” she beseeched him, “ye dinna wish to see her as yet... Gi’ her time.”

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