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.Ian took her hand.“Welcome to Brochel, m’lady.”Merrin hesitated.“Do ye think I should wait here whilst ye go find your brother?”“I want ye with me.” Ian straightened the cloth around her neck.“Ye look fine.”She giggled.“Do ye think they’ll have a gathering tonight?”“Of course.” He hopped over the side and reached for her.“If Alexander does no’ order a feast, me ma will see to it.”Ian carried Merrin to the edge of the beach and set her down.He pointed straight up to a thatched roof building outside the bailey walls.“That’s Sir Bran’s cottage—he’s Alexander’s henchman.”“’Tis big compared to me home on Fladda.”Ian pulled her hand.“’Tis about the size of the laird’s chamber in the castle.Come, I want ye to meet me mother.”People poured out the gate, filing down the zigzag path.Women, warriors, children.Merrin had never seen anything like it.“So many.”Friar Pat stood at the top of the hill and waved.Merrin’s heart skipped a beat—a familiar face.She flapped both hands.“’Tis the friar!”Ian released her hand and broke into a run, straight into the outstretched arms of a large redheaded man.“Brother.Och, ’tis good to see ye.”Alexander.The chieftain, laird of this land.Merrin clutched her hand to her throat.Perspiration stung her underarms.Alexander shook Ian’s shoulders.“I feared I’d never see ye again.”“Did ye doubt me?”“No’ you.But Rewan outnumbered ye by far—we must talk.”Ian waved, beckoning to Merrin.“But first I want ye to meet the woman who rescued me from the brink of death.”Alexander’s eyes widened when he looked her way.“A warrior woman?”Heat crawled up her face.“Nay, a healer.”“Ah.Welcome to Raasay.” He bowed and kissed her hand.“Any friend to my brother is a friend of mine.”Merrin bit her lip.Would the laird be as cordial once he discovered her true identity?Alexander shepherded them up the hill.The crowd closed in on them, everyone asking a barrage of questions.Merrin’s head spun.She clutched Ian’s hand as he pulled her alongside him.He pressed his lips to her ear.“I’ve got ye.Relax.”Easy for him to say.They neared the top of the hill, where stood a beautiful woman, dressed in the finest cloth Merrin had ever seen, her head covered with a veil of golden silk.She stepped forward so gracefully, Merrin could have sworn she was floating.“Son.I am ever so happy to see you.” Her English accent took Merrin off guard.And though Niall had told her Lady Anne was the daughter of an English earl, Merrin hadn’t expected her to look like a queen.Ian took the fragile lady’s hands and kissed her cheek.“Mother, Ye’re as beautiful as ever.” He pulled Merrin to his side.“I’d like ye to meet Merrin.Without her, I’d no’ be standing here today.”Merrin curtsied deeply and bowed her head.Her heart fluttered.She’d always dreamt of curtsying before nobility.“M’lady.”Lady Anne clasped Merrin’s shoulders and smiled.“My, you are lovely.” She fingered a strand of Merrin’s hair.“I have the perfect veil to match your gown.You must come above stairs with me.”Her warm smile made Merrin feel as if she’d known Lady Anne all her life.Friar Pat stepped in and wrapped his arm around Merrin’s shoulders and gave Lady Anne a wink.“I see ye’ve already grown a fondness for this bonny lassie.”Anne turned to another beautiful woman behind her.“What say you, Lady Enya? Shall we take Miss Merrin above stairs?”“Aye.” Enya stepped forward with a huge grin.“A blue veil will make her eyes shine like precious stones.”Merrin shot a panicked look toward Ian.“I do no’ think—”Ian touched her shoulder.“Go with me mother.She cannot resist an opportunity to primp.I’ll be along after I meet with Alex.”Merrin nodded and looked at Pat.“Do ye want to come with us, friar?”He sputtered.“Me? In a lady’s chamber? I think not.” He leaned in and lowered his voice.“But I’ll be in the garden should ye need me.”Lady Anne clapped her hands.“’Tis settled, then.Come with me, Miss Merrin.I do think we shall have a grand gathering tonight.It is not often my youngest graces me with his presence.We must celebrate.”***Ian followed his brother to the laird’s solar.Alexander had grown serious since Ian last saw him.He’d hardened, his face weathered.He wore his red beard long, ending in a point.Alex closed the door and moved to the sideboard [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]