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Devil of the Highlands


Chapter Seven

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"What the devil were ye doing, ye daft woman!" Cullen roared. It was not the first time he'd shouted the question. In fact, it seemed to be the only thing he could say as he stared down at his trembling wife, not even giving her a chance to answer before bellowing it again.

Cullen couldn't help himself. When he'd spotted his wee wife rushing across Angus's paddock, his heart had lodged firmly in his throat, leaving him gagging on a terror like he'd never before experienced. His terror had only increased when he saw that Angus had spotted the witless woman and was charging down the paddock toward her.

Worse yet, the senseless female had stopped moving when she'd seen him, a relieved look crossing her face. Why the devil she'd looked relieved was beyond him. He'd been too far away to do much but roar at her to move and rush to climb the fence to try to help her. And what had the foolish wench done? She'd done a little turn on the green as if she were at a bloody ball, and then sprinted for the fence.

Truth be told, Cullen had been rather impressed by her speed in that final dash, but it didn't lessen his anger. Dear God, he was sure she'd scared ten years off his life with this little adventure… and he did not scare easily. In fact, Cullen could honestly say he'd never ever experienced that kind of horror and fear before in all the years of his life… over anyone… and he never wanted to feel it again.

"I-"

"What the devil were ye doing?" Cullen interrupted to ask again. The bull had been a hairbreadth away from goring her when he'd lifted her out of the paddock. And this wasn't the first time she'd put herself in jeopardy with mad behavior either, he recalled. There was that little ride of hers in the meadow with her mare's reins in her teeth, too. The woman seemed prone to dangerous behavior.

"I was coming to speak to you," Evelinde blurted quickly, before he could repeat his words yet again.

"Me?" he asked incredulously.

"Aye. I had reached the first paddock when I saw you get thrown from that mad horse. I feared you had been injured and would need me. Rather than waste time running around the paddock, I climbed the fence to run through. I thought it was empty," she explained in a rush.

"Empty?" Cullen echoed with disbelief. "Are ye blind as well as daft? How could ye no see him?"

Evelinde just stared back at him helplessly apparently not having an answer for that. It was Fergus who stepped to Cullen's side and placed a calming hand on his arm as he murmured quietly by his ear, "The paddock is L-shaped, me laird. Angus may have been in the inner far corner, where she could not have seen him."

Cullen felt his shoulders sag at that reminder. In truth, a lot of his anger had slipped away at the knowledge that her stupid behavior had been out of concern for him. Fergus's comment simply drained him of the rest. He was terribly happy to know his wife wasn't an idiot. He was even happier to know she had been concerned for him. Though, Cullen couldn't have said why he cared… except perhaps because he found he quite liked her, and he had been concerned for her when he'd seen her in the paddock with Angus. In truth, he'd been in a panic when he'd realized the peril she was in.

The sound of throat clearing made him glance to Fergus to find his first jerking his eyes toward the other men standing around them, gawking at his wife. Cullen glowered at the lot of them and caught Evelinde by the arm to urge her across the grass toward the path.

"I am sorry, husband. I really did not see the bull," Evelinde said quietly, as he marched her up the path toward the castle.

Sighing, Cullen glanced at her as they passed the stables, really seeing her for the first time now his fear and anger had cleared. A frown immediately reclaimed his lips. The woman's hair was a knotted mass on her head, and the gown she wore was so big it was gaping in the front for all and sundry to see what she did and did not have.

"What the devil are you wearing?" he asked with dismay.

"I-" Evelinde glanced down at herself and gasped as she saw the state of her dress. She then reached behind her back, gathering up the excess material into one fist so the front was more fitted and didn't reveal so much.

Cullen scowled as he glanced over the gown. It looked familiar, but wasn't hers he was sure. At least it wasn't one of the ones he'd packed for her.

"Me laird!"

Cullen paused and glanced toward the wall at that shout to see one of the men waving at him. "What?"

"A traveling party is approaching," the man yelled back.

Cullen scowled, then glanced to Evelinde. Not that she noticed. Her attention was on the back of her gown as she twisted about trying to see something, though, he wasn't sure what she was looking for, and at the moment, he didn't have time to find out.

"Get to our room and change into something that fits ye," he ordered, giving her a little push toward the keep. "I have to see who this is."

Evelinde moved toward the keep, but she wasn't moving very quickly. It was difficult to walk quickly with your upper body twisted as far to the side as ye could turn it so you could examine the back of your skirt. She was searching for the pin she'd borrowed-without permission-from Cullen's chest. It had obviously come undone, letting loose the material she'd gathered at her back, and she was hoping it was caught in the folds of her gown somewhere. Unfortunately, a thorough search through the fabric proved it wasn't still there.

Pausing, Evelinde bit her lip and glanced back toward the paddock. Most of the men had dispersed; only a few were still making their way from the area. Gnawing at her lip now, Evelinde glanced in the direction she thought her husband had gone and saw him hurrying up a set of stairs carved into the stone wall. No doubt he was heading up to see who was approaching, she thought and glanced back toward the paddock again.

Evelinde really didn't wish to go anywhere near the bull again, but she also didn't want to have to explain to her husband that she'd lost his pin. What if it held some sentimental value? It could have been his father's, or even his mother's. Even if it wasn't, it had looked valuable. She was sure there were both rubies and emeralds in the broach.

Sighing, Evelinde gave up her position in the middle of the path and headed back to the paddock. She moved slowly, eyes scanning the dirt for the pin as she went, but she didn't see it. By the time she reached the fence, every last man who had been gathered there was gone. It seemed the celebrations were over.

Evelinde paused where she had the first time she'd reached the fence and looked inside the paddock for the bull. Angus was nowhere to be seen, but that was what she'd thought the last time and so looked a little more closely, realizing that it wasn't a rectangle as she'd first assumed, but an L-shape, the back end turning sharply and running along behind the next paddock and out of her line of vision. No doubt that was where the beast had been, back in the area she couldn't see, Evelinde realized, and decided she'd best not try to check the paddock itself now.

Lips pursing, she tightened her fingers on the fence before her with frustration, then suddenly recalled the struggle she'd had with her skirt on climbing the wooden frame. Perhaps the pin had popped open and dropped off there, she thought, and began to search the ground outside the fence, running her slipper back and forth over the grass, hoping to reveal it. When that didn't work, she knelt and began to crawl over the space, running her bare hands over the grass, willing to risk being pierced by the sharp tip to find it. She really didn't want to have to explain she'd lost the pin.

When that turned up nothing, Evelinde sat back on her heels with a sigh and peered into the paddock. The pin might have opened when she climbed the fence, but hung briefly from the material, falling out at some point between this and the other side of the paddock.

Or it may have hung there until she and Cullen were walking back toward the keep, she thought with sudden hope. Standing, Evelinde moved back to the path and followed it past the bull's paddock, eyes scanning the ground as she went. When she reached the spot where she thought they'd cut across the grass between the two paddocks, she got back to her hands and knees to search the grass along the path they'd taken.

"Wife!"

Evelinde closed her eyes at that bark, and there was no other word for it. Cullen sounded angry… again. Not wishing to lose her spot, she turned on her hands and knees to glance up at him, her eyes widening as she saw he wasn't alone. There were two men and a woman with him, she noted with dismay… and every single one of them, Cullen included, were staring at her with a sort of fascinated horror she didn't understand. Surely it wasn't that shocking to find her looking for something on the ground?

"Wife, ye-yer-" Apparently at a loss, Cullen gestured toward his upper chest, then rushed forward.

Evelinde glanced down at the gesture, a blush of embarrassment heating her face as she realized her borrowed gown was gaping wide and-with her on all fours-she was giving them a lovely view all the way down to her knees. Gasping, she sat up abruptly and gasped again as Cullen caught her by the arm and yanked her to her feet.

Before she could reach back to gather the folds and make the gown more presentable, Cullen had already done so. He caught the excess material in a fist and used that hold to turn her toward him as he hissed, "What are ye doing? I told ye to go change."

"Aye, but I lost-" Evelinde paused abruptly when she realized she was about to tell him she'd lost his pin, but he didn't notice, he was already snapping at her again.

"When I tell ye to do something, ye do it, lass." The words were hard and uncompromising.

"I-"

"Obey was one of the vows ye gave," he reminded grimly.

Evelinde blinked at the words, then said sharply, "As I recall I did not vow anything, husband. I flopped about like a landed fish."

Cullen growled and opened his mouth, no doubt to give another order, but was interrupted by a woman's voice saying, "Oh my, that sounds an interesting tale, dear. I cannot wait to hear it."

Evelinde turned wide eyes to the woman, noting with distraction that the trio she had first noted with her husband had moved closer.

"You are English," she said with surprise, her gaze moving over the tall, curvy woman with interest.

"Born and raised," the woman agreed with a smile. "And here I feared I'd taken on a Scottish accent after all these years."

"You have a bit of one," Evelinde said. "But not so much I have to struggle to understand you as I do everyone else here."

The woman laughed, but Cullen and the other two men scowled as if she'd insulted them. Obviously, she could not do anything right today, not even speak, she decided unhappily. Her thoughts were distracted when Cullen suddenly urged her forward with the handful of skirt he held, his fist goosing her-unintentionally, she was sure.

"Wife, the Comyns. Comyns, me wife," Cullen announced as he directed them all up the path again. Evelinde rolled her eyes at his idea of an introduction, but then smiled as graciously as she could manage and said, "Welcome."

Lady Comyn-at least Evelinde thought she must be Lady Comyn, though it was hard to say after that introduction, she thought irritably-chuckled and moved to slip her arm through Evelinde's to lead her toward the keep.

"Call me Ellie, dear. My name is Eleanor, but only people I do not like call me that."

"And I am Evelinde," she murmured, glancing impatiently back at her husband, who was still holding the back of her gown and trying to steer her by it. She attempted to brush his hand away and take over holding the gown with her own free hand, but he ignored her efforts and merely scowled. She scowled right back and pinched the back of his hand.

"We heard Cullen had found himself a bride and could not resist coming to meet you," Lady Comyn said, distracting her.

Giving up on her husband for the moment, Evelinde turned back at that announcement and offered a smile. "And I am glad you did."

"So am I," Ellie said with amusement, as Cullen broke them apart by shifting Evelinde to the right by his hold on her gown.

It was only then Evelinde saw the puddle she'd been about to stomp through. Still, she cast a glare back at her husband and once again tried to free herself from his hold, this time resorting to digging her nails into the skin of his hand rather than pinching him.

A low chuckle then drew her attention to the fact that the Comyn men-one older and probably Ellie's husband, and a younger one of about Cullen's age who she thought might be their son-were grinning at these antics as they followed them up the path.

"Aye, we heard Cullen had found himself a bride, but no one mentioned he'd met his match," the younger Comyn man said, amusement sparkling in his eyes. " Twill be interesting to see how the Devil of Donnachaidh deals with a wife who doesna automatically obey as everyone else does."

Cullen released her skirt then in favor of turning a hard glance on the man, but he merely laughed and slapped his shoulder. "Come now, Cullen, cheer up, or I shall tell one and all that you are attached to yer wife by her skirt strings."

Evelinde's eyes widened at the man's baiting, but then glanced to Lady Comyn as she chuckled and caught her arm to urge her forward again. "Do not mind them, my dear. My son, Tralin, and your husband have been friends for ages."

She smiled at the reassurance but cast a glance nervously back to be sure the men hadn't come to blows. However, Cullen was walking between the two Comyn men, listening to something the older man was saying, and didn't look the least annoyed. He also wasn't holding her skirt up anymore, Evelinde realized, and was relieved to take over the task for herself for the rest of the walk.

Her relief only lasted until they reached the keep stairs. Evelinde paused there and caught up her skirt to keep from tripping over it, then gasped as her husband scooped her up into his arms.

"Ye'll trip in that ridiculous gown," he said, carrying her past a now openly laughing Lady Comyn.

Evelinde ground her teeth together and crossed her arms over her chest, wondering where and when it was exactly she'd lost her dignity. She'd think it was somewhere between England and Scotland except for the humiliating events leading up to her wedding. Between tumbling into the river, the debacle when Cullen had fallen from his horse, and being forced to flop her way through her wedding, it did seem she'd had nothing but difficulties from the moment Edda had announced she was to marry the Devil of Donnachaidh. It made her think that must be when luck had turned on her.

And here she'd woken up after consummating the marriage thinking herself lucky to have been wedded to the man. Evelinde snorted at her poor, naive thoughts of earlier as Cullen carried her into the keep. The sound made him glance at her sharply, but she ignored his questioning glance and decided she should have taken heed of her husband's poor luck at the time and reconsidered finding a way to end the betrothal.

And he did have poor luck, Evelinde thought, as he carried her across the hall to the stairs. There was the matter of his dead father, uncle, and wife, and each death blamed on him. That certainly wasn't good luck. It seemed obvious her husband walked under some curse.

Perhaps she should look into good-luck charms to help preserve her through this marriage, Evelinde thought grimly.

"Change." The one-word order was said as Cullen paused at the stairs leading to the keep's second level and set her on her feet.

"Into what, my lord?" Evelinde asked with exasperation. "I have nothing to wear but the gowns in our chamber, and every one of them will be as large as this one."

"What?" he asked, his face gone suddenly blank.

"You heard me," she snapped, some of her temper slipping out despite herself. Her gaze slid to the Comyns then, and Evelinde sighed inwardly as she realized that while they had paused at the tables, they were listening avidly.

"Of course you have something else to wear," Cullen insisted. "Put on one of yer own gowns."

"What gowns of my own?" Evelinde asked, turning sharply back on him as all of her frustrations burst forth. "You carried me away from d'Aumesbery without my maid, my mare, or even a change of clothes, or a brush for my hair. This is the best I can do," she cried.

Cullen grunted with irritation and shook his head. "Of course I brought ye a change of clothes. I packed them meself while we were supposed to be consummating the marriage."

Evelinde noticed the eyebrow-raising among the Comyns, but other than shout out to them that the wedding had been consummated since then, she didn't know what to do. And really, she was embarrassed enough already.

"And I put a brush in, too," Cullen added, reclaiming her wandering attention.

"In what?" Evelinde asked with bewilderment. She recalled his moving briefly out of her sight and hearing rustling that might have been the sound of packing.

"In a sack. 'Tis in our chamber," he said.

Evelinde stared at her husband, realizing he'd spoken more words in the last few moments than he'd yet said since they'd met. While she was relieved to have this information now, she couldn't help but be absolutely furious that-had he simply told her these things at some point during the journey here, or even before bedding her that day-the whole humiliating afternoon could have been avoided. She would be wearing one of her own gowns that fit properly, would have had no need of the pin that was now lost, would not have unintentionally exposed herself to their neighbors, and would have greeted them looking dignified and well put together. This whole mess was all his fault.

Evelinde opened her mouth, several choice words trembling on the tip of her tongue, but then snapped it closed again and whirled away. She had already thoroughly humiliated herself in front of their neighbors and would not make it any worse. However, she and her husband were going to have a serious discussion later, Evelinde thought, grabbing up her skirts and stamping up the stairs.

She kept stamping all the way to the room and into it. Evelinde then stomped around the chamber, glowering as she searched for the sack he spoke of. At first, she thought there wasn't one, but then she recalled the soft whoosh when he'd reached the opposite side of the bed the night they'd arrived and moved around to the side he'd slept on and glanced at the floor. Nothing.

She was about to whirl away and stamp back below to bellow at her husband when she spotted a corner of cloth sticking out from under the bed.

Moving forward, Evelinde knelt to grab it and pulled out what turned out to be a sack. The only thing she could think was he'd accidentally kicked it under the bed when getting into it last night, or perhaps at some point when he'd come up this morning to rub the salve into her. Had he mentioned it was there, she would have thought to look for it.

Closing her eyes, Evelinde held her breath for a moment, then released it slowly.

"Patience," she murmured, and opened the sack as she stood up. Setting the bag on the bed, Evelinde reached in and pulled out the first thing she touched. It was a dark green gown, one of her favorites. A red gown followed; another of her favorites. A chemise came next, then another. Finally, her hand closed on a handle and she pulled out a brush. Evelinde then turned the sack over, emptying the remaining contents onto the bed and sighing as several items tumbled out, including a couple of her best belts, cornets, circlets, gloves, and a smaller sack, which held her mother's jewelry.

Evelinde stared at the items and sank down on the side of the bed as tears filled her eyes. He'd thought of everything. Well, not everything. Her tapestries and so forth were not there, but he'd included everything she would need to dress herself properly at least for a couple of days. It was more than she'd hoped for when he'd said he packed for her. Most men would have not thought to include the gloves or circlets she was sure. But Cullen had, and had done so despite her not being able to remind him of the need at the time. He'd also done so during a more stressful than usual wedding. At least, she thought it had probably been more stressful than the average wedding but couldn't be sure. It was her first.

Feeling a bit mollified, Evelinde forced herself to stand and begin to remove her gown. She would dress and fix her hair as quickly as possible, then return below. They had guests. Her first. She'd made a poor showing at the initial meeting but hoped to repair the impression. If she could.

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