Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(120)

By: Ceci Giltenan

“Ye won’t kill her and ye won’t banish him. Ye intend to let this conniving tart become Lady Sutherland someday?”

Conniving tart? Had Grace completely misread Laird Sinclair?

“How dare ye?” demanded Lady Sutherland, furiously.

Laird Sinclair shrugged. “She’s too bold by half. The whispers I heard about her as I walked through the village were shocking.”

Even Laird Sutherland looked affronted. “Don’t ever speak like that about my son’s wife again.”

That statement stunned Grace. Had Laird Sutherland just defended her?

“But the rumors—”

“Are false. All of them. I started them, or helped them along. I wanted…”

“Ye wanted an alliance with me for good reasons. So ye hoped to turn yer son against her by ruining her reputation.”

“Aye. It was wrong, but I thought…I thought it was the best thing for my clan.”

“What ye thought, Eanraig, is that ye didn’t want yer son to hate ye if he could learn to hate her instead. Then ye would have both yer son and yer alliance and there was no reason to worry about a common lass of no consequence. So why do ye care now?” He pulled Grace close and unsheathed his dagger. “I have a knife right here. I can do it for ye. I’ll cut her throat. Then we’ll have our alliance.”

Again, Grace struggled against Laird Sinclair’s vice-like grip to no avail. Although he wasn’t hurting her, she was terrified. She tried desperately not to panic, but it was increasingly hard to believe he was on her side.

“Let her go,” Bram roared, lunging towards Laird Sinclair. Ian and Eanraig held him back.

“Bram, stop! He’s too close to her,” said Ian, clearly convinced that Laird Sinclair would kill her if Bram attacked.

“Nay, Papa,” screamed Annice. Her grandmother clamped a hand on her shoulder, preventing Annice from standing.

Struggling to hold his son back, Eanraig warned, “If ye do that, Ranulf, it will be war. Take yer hands off my good daughter.”

“So ye are accepting her as a daughter?”

“Aye, of course I do. Bram loves her. She’s a good lass.”

Bram stopped struggling against Ian. “Da, do ye mean that? We have yer blessing?”

“Aye, Bram. Ye love her and she is a worthy bride. I won’t see either of ye hurt.”

A worthy bride? Grace could scarce believe her ears.

“And ye will fix her reputation in yer clan?” asked Laird Sinclair.

“Aye, put the knife down and let her go…please.” Eanraig almost sounded desperate.

Laird Sinclair gave a small bow. “As ye wish.” He kissed Grace on the cheek. “Grace, my love, show yer mother’s box to Laird Sutherland.”

Confused, Grace walked across the room. Both Bram and his father met her halfway. Bram wrapped his arms around her. “Ah, Grace, my love, are ye all right?”

“Aye, Bram, I’m fine.” She gave the little box to Bram’s father.

Lady Sutherland also crossed to where they stood, placing herself between Laird Sinclair and Grace in a protective stance. But perhaps to Grace’s greatest surprise, Laird Sutherland, who had taken the box from her but hadn’t looked at it, put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Grace.”

“Look at the box, Eanraig. It was her mother’s,” urged Laird Sinclair.

As Laird Sutherland examined the carved lid of the box, a looked of dawning realization crossed his face. “She’s yers, Ranulf?”

Laird Sinclair smiled. “Well, I think it’s fairly obvious she’s yers now, but aye, I gave my sister that box years ago and Grace is the absolute image of her.”

Lady Sutherland looked at the box and gasped. “Eanraig, she’s…”

Grace was stunned. “What?”

Both Annice and Bram looked equally shocked by the pronouncement. Laird Sutherland held the box so Bram could see the lid.

“I suspect she never showed ye this, Bram.”

Bram looked and almost laughed. “Nay, she didn’t. Grace, yer mother was a Sinclair. The rooster and gorse are Sinclair symbols.”

“A Sinclair?”

Laird Sinclair’s mother drew everyone’s eye. With tears pouring down her cheeks she had risen from her seat and walked across the room to Grace. She cupped Grace’s cheeks in her weathered hands. “My precious child, ye look just like Catriona. I knew it the instant ye walked in the room. I wasn’t sure what my fool son was up to.”