Bedding the Enemy - By Mary Wine
Red Stone Castle, McQuade land, Scotland, Spring 1604
He’d never courted the title. Never considered it something that might be his. Keir McQuade walked through the hallways he’d covered a thousand times in the last year alone but today it felt like he crossed the polished stones for the very first time.
Today he was Laird McQuade.
An uneasy peace had settled on his father’s land. One that Keir did not trust. Everyone was watching to see what the new season would bring. His father had wielded power ruthlessly and his two elder brothers followed their sire absolutely—moonlit raids on their neighbors that had resulted in his only sister being stolen away.
Keir snarled softly. Bronwyn was the only member of the family that he held dear. He missed her now that she was wed and that was no mistake. He did not lament the loss of his father or brothers, only the fact that they had been so filled with greed that they could not remain among the living.
He’d run his brother Sodac through with his own hand after he’d tried to help their eldest brother poison their sister.
And for what?
To deny her a dowry that her mother had settled on her long ago. Keir shook his head. Three months later, he was still slightly amazed when he opened his eyes in the morning and recalled the events that had left him to inherit the title of Laird McQuade.
He neared his chamber and frowned. Footsteps scuffed on the floor and two younger lads came around the corner with a heavy trunk between them.
“Laird.” They both ducked their heads, unable to tug on their bonnets or drop their burden. But they both looked at the top of the trunk, avoiding his eyes.
A maid came next with her arms full. “Pardon me, laird.” She dropped a curtsy without breaking her pace and ducked around him in a flash.
Keir frowned. Covering the last few steps to the doorway of his chamber, he stared inside. The shutters were wide open to allow the new spring air inside. A hint of new plants was in the air but all he felt was a tightening between his shoulder blades.
“What goes on here, Gwen?”
His mistress was standing near the bed. She tensed, the hand resting on the bedpost tightening. He heard her sigh before she turned to face him.
“It is time, Keir.”
“Is it now?” He swept the room with his gaze. All of her personal belongings were missing. “Except that I dinnae recall when we decided that ye should leave.”
“We didna decide because ye avoid the topic every time I bring it up. I decided.” She sounded resigned but at the same time there was a core of strength in her that he admired.
“Ye got yer monthly courses, didn’t ye?” He stepped closer, reaching for her, but Gwen moved away from his touch. A soft shaft of pain went through him. “Things have changed. Stop taking that concoction of yers and we’ll marry now that my father isna here to tell us no.”
“You canna marry me, Keir.” Gwen offered him a genuine smile. “Dinnae talk that way.”
“Ye love me, Gwen, and I will wed with ye. I’m laird now and I dinnae answer to my father any longer. I only refused ye a babe because my father would have seen it born a bastard.”
“But you do not love me.” Her eyes glittered and she drew a deep breath. “You are correct, my monthly courses have come and it’s time for me to go. Before I lose the strength to do what I know in my heart is right.”
“I didna say any such thing.”
Gwen lifted a small hand up to silence his words. Hard resignation drew her face tight. “You will not say it because you know I love ye and ye’re a good man. So it falls to me to speak the words we both know need saying.”
She interrupted him. “You are the laird now. Just like your sister, it falls to you to marry for the benefit of every McQuade. I bring ye nothing.”
“Ye’re a fine woman, Gwen, and ye’d make a good mistress of Red Castle.”
She smiled, soaking up the praise, but her resolve never faltered. “Thank you. But it remains that you do not love me.”
Keir hissed but couldn’t deny the truth of her words. Lying about such a thing would cause so much more pain when he was found out. “I wish it were otherwise, Gwen. Truly I do.”
She moved toward him, reaching up to cup