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"There is no need to carry me, husband. I am not hurt. I can walk," Evelinde repeated for about the tenth time since Cullen had been pulled back up on the cliff, swept her up in his arms, and headed for the keep. And for the tenth time he ignored her and continued silently on his way.
Giving up on the possibility of walking, Evelinde peered over his shoulder to the small group following. Biddy, Tavis, and Mildrede were in front with Mac, Rory, and Gillie following. Her gaze settled on Biddy, taking in her lost expression. The older woman's face was pale, and her trembling was visible across the ten-foot span between them. Mildrede had her arm around Biddy's waist and was helping to support her as she walked, while Tavis had his mother's arm clasped in his hand in the first show of familial support she'd seen between the two since arriving at Donnachaidh. Cullen's cousin also looked shaken by the revelations this day, and Evelinde wondered if learning what he had about his father might not steer him toward changing some of his ways. She hoped so, but would just have to wait and see what happened.
She was not willing to wait and see when it came to Biddy, however.
He didn't speak, but his eyes did flicker toward her briefly before returning to the path ahead. Knowing that was the equivalent of a "Yes, wife?" from him, she said, "What will you do about Biddy?"
One corner of his mouth twitched toward a frown before settling back into its usual expressionless pose, but she could see the fretting in his eyes and knew he wasn't sure what to do about his aunt and what she'd done.
"She did not kill him," Evelinde said softly. "She shot him with an arrow, 'tis true, but that is not what killed him. Darach deserved that and more for what he did to Jenny. Can you not just forget what she did and let it go?"
"Aye." Cullen sighed. "In truth, she has been punishing herself for years for what she thought she'd done. I do not feel any great need to punish her further."
Evelinde tightened her arms around his shoulders in a brief hug, then relaxed in his hold and smiled.
"Ye shouldna be smiling. Ye should be furious with me," Cullen growled, as they reached the door leading into the kitchens at the back of the castle, and he kicked it open with one booted foot.
Evelinde's eyes widened in surprise, but she waited until they had passed out of the kitchens and were crossing the empty great hall before asking, "Why?"
"Because once again me refusal to speak has caused ye grief, and this time it nearly got ye killed."
"It did?" she asked, perplexed.
"Aye," he said as he started up the stairs with her. "He wouldna have been able to lure ye anywhere had I but spoken of my uncertainties where he was concerned."
Evelinde glanced at him sharply as they reached the landing. "You suspected Fergus?"
"Nay," he admitted, pausing to allow her to open the door to their chamber. He then stepped inside, kicked the door closed, carried her to the bed, then simply stood there holding her, as he said, "But the business with the fire in the solar troubled me. He claimed to be in the great hall and should have seen anyone ascending the stairs, yet said he hadn't and was very insistent it had to have been an accident. Even when I pointed out that the torch had fallen too far from the cresset to be accidental, he insisted it had to be." Cullen grimaced. "They claimed he'd looked away briefly to open the door for Tavis and Mildrede, but I ken Fergus. He takes his duties seriously and woudna have looked away from the solar even as he crossed the hall and opened the doors for them, so it troubled me. Mayhap if I had mentioned that to ye, ye would have thought twice about going anywhere with him alone."
"Aye, I would have," she agreed calmly, but there was no anger in her words. She simply wasn't experiencing any.
"I'm sorry," he said solemnly, then vowed, "I shall change. I will tell ye everything in future. I will-" Cullen paused, his eyes widening with surprise when she covered his mouth with her hand, forcing him to silence.
"You need not change, my lord husband. You-"
"Aye, I do," he insisted earnestly, twisting his face away to dislodge her hand. "I love ye, Evelinde. I do. And I ken ye doona love me back. How could ye when ye hardly know me? 'Tis all me own fault. As ye pointed out, ye've told me everything about yerself. I know about yer childhood, yer family, yer beliefs… everything. But ye ken nothing about me. I would change that. I would have ye love me, too."
"I do love you," Evelinde said quickly.
Cullen blinked. "Ye do?"
She chuckled softly at his startled expression, then hugged him tightly. "Aye, husband. I do."
"How can ye love me when ye hardly know me?" he asked with confusion.
"But I do know you," Evelinde assured him solemnly. "I know that you are strong and honorable. I know that you have and will always do your best to see to my well-being and happiness. I know that you are fair and compassionate in your dealings with your people…" She shook her head. "Cullen, what you said earlier in our relationship was true. Your actions do speak louder than words."
When he didn't look convinced, she pointed out, "Look at Fergus. He kept saying that he loved Biddy. That he could not hurt her this way or that, and yet all he did was hurt her."
Evelinde paused a moment, then asked, "What would you have done in Fergus's place had you come upon Jenny and Darach and known what he was doing?"
Cullen's mouth thinned out. "I'd have challenged him to a battle and killed the bastard."
"Aye." She nodded. "And what would you have done after Jenny killed herself and Darach played the sympathetic husband?"
"I'd have called him out in front of everyone and let them know what I knew. And then I'd have challenged him and killed the bastard."
Evelinde bit her lip to keep from smiling. There was a definite pattern here. It seemed Cullen found his uncle's behavior despicable and would have "killed the bastard." She wasn't surprised, but merely pointed out, "Instead, Fergus arranged for Biddy to find out and waited for her to confront the man. And when she shot Darach, but it didn't kill him, Fergus finished the job, but not for Biddy as he claimed. She was trying desperately to save him. He did it for himself, in the hopes that he would then have a chance with her. He merely justified it by claiming it was for love of her… and he did so with little concern for the guilt she would suffer."
"He also did not kill your father or little Maggie for Biddy. Would your father not have listened if Fergus had admitted that he'd killed Darach when he was mending? You do not doubt it, do you?" Evelinde waited until he shook his head. And then she shrugged, and said, "And neither would your father. But Fergus did not, because it would have meant putting himself at risk, and so he justified killing them by saying 'twas for Biddy… leaving her to suffer that guilt now as well," she added dryly, and shook her head. "That is not love, Cullen. Fergus spoke of love, but his actions didn't support his words."
"You, on the other hand," Evelinde said quietly, raising a hand to press it to his cheek. "While you rarely give me words, your actions have ever spoken loudly of who you are and what you believe in. Your honor shines through, and I love you for it." She smiled wryly, and added, "Well, once I found out about the actions I did."
Cullen hugged her closely, then bent to kiss her. It started out a sweet kiss, loving and gentle, but soon began to change, passion slipping in and taking over. They were both breathless when he broke the kiss.
"I love ye, Evelinde," he repeated solemnly, his fingers moving to begin undoing her lacings. "When I rode out to d'Aumesbery to collect and marry ye, my best hope was that ye'd be someone I could deal with at least middling well, but I found better than that. I liked ye on our first meeting. That liking just increased with every moment we spent together. Ye were like no woman I had ever before met."
"I liked you, too," Evelinde murmured, as he paused to push her gown off her shoulders. "Though I have been fortunate enough to know men as fine as you ere this."
When he stiffened, she grinned, and added, "You are very like my father was, and I hope my brother still is. I have been fortunate in having good men in my life and am proud to be your wife."
Cullen relaxed, but then something flickered in his eyes, and Evelinde tilted her head curiously.
"What is it?"
"I just recalled something I fergot to tell ye," he admitted.
She raised her eyebrows curiously.
"We've had a letter from yer brother," he announced. "Alexander's coming to visit."
Evelinde smiled widely at this news, her heart lifting with job. Noting that Cullen was appearing less than happy though, she asked, "Do you not wish him to do so? You did say I could invite him," she reminded worriedly.
"Aye, and I am not displeased that he's coming, I just should have told ye days ago when I received the news," he said, then promised, "I shall not forget things like that in future. I'll tell ye, and I'll tell ye anything ye wish to ken about meself. I'll tell ye about me childhood, and me father, and me mother, and anything else ye want to hear about."
He let her chemise slithered to the floor. "I'll tell ye about me first hunt, me first wife, me-"
"Husband," Evelinde interrupted, as his hands slid over her body.
"Aye?" Cullen asked, his hands pausing briefly.
"Tell me later," she whispered, then leaned against his chest and slid her hand around his neck to urge him down to kiss her.
"Aye, wife," he breathed before his mouth covered hers.
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