Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(126)

By: Ceci Giltenan

She laughed merrily. The sound was enchanting. “It is so very kind of ye to ask. No one else has, but I am fine. It isn’t as if I was longing to marry Bram. I didn’t even know him. Well, I suppose I met him a few years ago at my sister’s wedding, but I was just a lass. Nay, I’m not the least bit upset. On the contrary, finding my cousin has been wonderful. The fact that she and Bram love each other…” Annice sighed. “Well, that is just the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.” She blushed. “I suppose that sounds silly.”

“Not at all,” said Michael.

“I don’t fink it’s siwwy eiver,” said Kristen.

Just then, a hush fell over the hall as Laird Sutherland took his usual place at the table, standing to address those assembled. “Good evening.”

The clan responded with a murmured, “Good evening, Laird.”

“Tonight, I must do something that is very difficult. I must confess to ye all that over the last few weeks I have whispered lies, and aided in spreading malice about the lovely young woman beside me.”

More murmurs passed through the crowd.

“I thought my reasons were sound. My son had fallen in love with her, and she with him. But in order to gain an alliance with the Sinclairs, something I firmly believed was for the good of the clan, I intended for him to marry Annice Sinclair.”

“That’s you,” Kristen whispered loudly to Annice. Titters of laughter spread through the hall.

Laird Sutherland smiled indulgently at Kristen before continuing. “I had hoped vainly that Bram would set her aside if her character were called into question. To his credit, he knew better. He was confident of her love and fidelity. So that failing, I did something reprehensible. As her laird, I ordered Grace to lie to my son, to tell him she loved another and would not be his bride. I threatened her with a forced marriage to someone of my choosing. I even threatened her life. I told her it was for the good of the clan and convinced her it was better for her to break his heart than for me to order him to set her aside.” He laid his hand on Grace’s shoulder.

“Perhaps worst of all, I listened to blatant lies about her, told by men I had no reason to trust. I made no attempt at all to discern the truth, but let them drag her away, forcing her to leave her precious child behind.” He looked at Grace. “Grace, I humbly apologize for wronging ye in so many ways.”

Stunned and speechless, Grace just nodded.

Laird Sutherland continued. “Again, Bram saw through the lies and rescued her. What’s more, he saw through the lies I had told her. He knew I could never take her life, so he married Grace last night before bringing her home.”

There were no shocked gasps, suggesting the laird’s revelation came as no surprise. Michael smiled to himself. That news had spread at lightning speed.

“Meanwhile, the Sinclairs arrived, believing in good faith that Bram wished to meet Annice. Laird Sinclair, I heartily apologize for misleading ye.”

Laird Sinclair bowed his head briefly in acknowledgement. “Accepted.”

“Still, in spite of everything, the Divine’s hand has been at work. Ye all knew that Tristan and his bride fled in fear of her father and Grace was raised knowing nothing about her family. What we have learned today is that Kristen’s mother was Catriona Sinclair.”

This time there were some shocked gasps. Clearly that bit of news hadn’t circulated fully.

“So as humbling as this day has been, it has also brought me great joy. My son is married to a lass he adores and with whom he deserves to be happy. I have a good daughter who is not only talented, kind, and as stalwart as any warrior, she is a loving and gentle mother. I have a granddaughter who won my heart from the first moment I saw her. And whether I deserved it or not, I have a staunch ally in Laird Ranulf Sinclair. Please raise yer tankards in honor of the happy couple.” He raised his own. “To Bram and Grace.”

“To Bram and Grace,” the people answered, banging the tables.

When the uproar settled, Laird Sutherland raised his tankard again. “And to Laird Ranulf and Clan Sinclair, long may ye prosper.”

“Clan Sinclair,” the crowd answered.