Eveline Armstrong is fiercely loved and protected by her powerful clan, but outsiders consider her “touched.” Beautiful, fey, with a level, intent gaze, she doesn’t speak. No one, not even her family, knows that she cannot hear. Content with her life of seclusion, Eveline has taught herself to read lips and allows the outside world to view her as daft. But when an arranged marriage into a rival clan makes Graeme Montgomery her husband, Eveline accepts her duty—unprepared for the delights to come. Graeme is a rugged warrior with a voice so deep and powerful that his new bride can hear it, and hands and kisses so tender and skilled that he stirs her deepest passions.
Graeme is intrigued by the mysterious Eveline, whose silent lips are ripe with temptation and whose bright, intelligent eyes can see into his soul. As intimacy deepens, he learns her secret. But when clan rivalries and dark deeds threaten the wife he has only begun to cherish, the Scottish warrior will move heaven and earth to save the woman who has awakened his heart to the beautiful song of a rare and magical love.
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“ ’Tis madness!” Bowen Montgomery exclaimed. “He cannot tie you to the wee daft daughter of our most hated foe.”
Graeme Montgomery stared grimly back at his brother, unable to formulate a response for the growing rage in his chest. The king’s messenger had departed and was even now riding beyond the Montgomery border. Graeme had made sure of it. He felt deeply betrayed by his king and wanted no representative of the crown on his lands for a second longer.
“She’s but a child,” Bowen said in disgust. “And she’s . . . she’s . . . well, everyone knows she isn’t right. What the hell are you supposed to do with her, Graeme?”
Graeme held up his hand for silence and his fi ngers trembled, betraying his fury. He turned and stalked away from his brother, needing the distance and solitude to take in the magnitude of what had just been done to him. To his clan.
His king hadn’t just made a simple decree of marriage in an effort to halt hostilities between two feuding clans. He’d effectively chosen to end Graeme’s chance to pass the mantle of leadership on to his heirs.
Because there wouldn’t be any.
It would all end with Graeme.
With no sons to become laird, it would be up to one of his brothers—Bowen or Teague—to assume the role and provide heirs so that the Montgomery name would be carried into the future. His clan might even decide that one of his brothers would be a better choice for laird simply because he would be in a position of having a wife who couldn’t assume her role in the clan and he wouldn’t be able to sire children.
What a damnable mess the whole thing was.
How could his liege have done this? Surely he understood the future he was consigning Graeme to.
He paced into the small antechamber down the narrow hallway from the great hall. The room was darkened, the furs not yet thrown back from the windows. He chose to leave them covered and instead lit a candle from one of the wall sconces in the hallway.
The glow from the candle did little to illuminate the room, but he found his way to the sturdy table where his da had sat many a night scratching his quill over ledgers. The old laird had been a tightfisted, scrutinizing man who held into account every thing of value owned by the clan.
But he had a heart the size of a mountain and he was fair and equal with his clan. He made sure everyone had what they needed. All were clothed and no one went hungry even if it meant he, himself, went without.
Graeme missed him every single day.
He sank heavily into the gnarled chair and ran his hands over the aged wood, almost as if he could feel the essence of his father in this very room.
Marriage. To an Armstrong. It didn’t bear thinking about.
And then there was Bowen with all his babbling about the girl being daft. Graeme hadn’t ever paid much heed to the rumors about the lass being touched. It hadn’t concerned him. Not until now. It was widely known that something was off about the girl and that the Armstrong clan had closed ranks around her.
She’d even been betrothed before, to the McHugh whelp. The McHugh chieftain coveted an alliance with the Armstrongs, because once allied with them, he became a force to be reckoned with. There was no love lost between the Montgomerys and McHughs. The McHughs were every bit as culpable in the death of Graeme’s father, but Graeme knew who’d been directly responsible. And so it was the Armstrongs who were most deserving of his hatred.
He hadn’t been sorry that the betrothal had been dissolved and that the two clans weren’t formally bound by marriage. The Armstrongs weren’t quick to ally themselves with neighboring clans. They didn’t need to. They were a powerful enough force that unless many other clans stood against them, they would be assured a victory in battle.
Tavis Armstrong was just as his father was before him. Mistrustful of treaties and promises. He gave no one opportunity to betray him and he trusted his clan’s welfare to no one save himself.
If they weren’t such bitter enemies, Graeme could almost respect the vigor with which Tavis wielded his power and the fact that he relied on no one for support.
Once the betrothal had been dissolved between the Armstrong daughter and McHugh’s son, not much else was said, other than the occasional murmurs that called into question the lass’s state of mind. Since the Armstrongs weren’t exactly a social clan, and they most definitely held to their own, not much escaped about the only daughter.
No, Graeme wasn’t sorry that the marriage hadn’t taken place. He knew that McHugh would use his position with Armstrong to feed the fury against the Montgomerys. McHugh wanted more land, more power, and the Montgomery holding was a thorn in his side because they had him boxed in to the north.
But now he was going to be saddled with a woman he knew next to nothing about? It was bad enough she was addled and couldn’t perform as a wife, but she was an Armstrong, which meant no matter if she was the most perfect woman in all of the highlands, Graeme wanted nothing to do with her.
When he married, it would be to a lass of his own clan. He’d never marry someone who would bring danger, anger, and dissension to his people. And Eveline Armstrong would certainly do just that.
The small whisper came from the doorway, and some of his anger and tension fl ed as his sister, Rorie, peered in, her expression anxious.
“What is it, sweeting?” he asked, motioning her forward.
Rorie was fifteen winters, but she was behind most other lasses her age. While most had found their womanly shapes and had grown breasts, Rorie was still thin and slight, and were it not for her startling beautiful green eyes and the delicate femininity of her face, she could well pass for a lad.
With three older brothers, one would think she would have grown up able to take on anything, but she was extremely shy, quieter than any lass of his acquaintance. Except around him and his brothers. With them she was bossy, demanding, and impish. She mostly avoided the rest of the clan and preferred to go her own way.
“Is it true what Bowen said?”
She was but a few feet away now, standing in front of the table where he sat, his hands still clenched into fists as they rested on the wooden surface.
“Are you marrying an Armstrong?”
He searched her expression for fear because he’d do anything to soothe her worries. Losing their father had been especially difficult for her because she had been his da’s treasure. She more than any of them viewed the Armstrongs as monsters.
But all he saw was a troubled, worried look in her expressive eyes.
“’Tis what the king has decreed.”
She frowned. “But why? Why would he do such a thing?”
“It’s not your place to question his dictates,” he said with no heat. He couldn’t reprimand her for such a lack of respect when he himself questioned the very thing.
“They killed Da,” she said emphatically. “How can there ever be peace between us? How could the king believe that forcing a marriage between you and one of them would solve anything?”
“Shhh,” he said gently. “Enough, Rorie. We’ve been summoned to the Armstrongs and there we’ll go.”
Her look of horror was instantaneous. “Go there? To their lands? Where they could kill us all? Why can’t they come here? Why are we the ones who must sacrifice everything? Have they done something to gain the king’s favor?”
For a moment Graeme smiled, finding amusement in her statement. “It’s not likely they feel that handing their daughter over to me in marriage is the result of gaining his favor. I doubt they have any more liking for the matter than we do.”
“ ’Tis said she’s touched,” Rorie asserted.
Graeme sighed. “I guess we’ll fi nd out at the wedding, now won’t we?”
Just then, Teague’s bellow could be heard down the hallway. “Graeme! God’s teeth, where are you?”
Graeme sighed again. Rorie spared a slight smile and turned just as Teague burst through the door, sweat and blood caked on his body.
“Tell me it isn’t true,” Teague spat.
“You left training to ask if what Bowen told you was truth?” Graeme asked. “Are you suggesting he would lie to you and that you should leave your duties to question me on such a thing?”
Teague scowled and started to say something, but stopped, only just now realizing Rorie was in attendance. He clamped his lips shut, then glanced down at the blood covering him
Rorie was . . . well, she was different. To most of the women of their clan, blood, violence, battle . . . It was all a way of life. As normal as eating and sleeping. But Rorie was sensitive to such things. The sight of blood made her go pale, and she hated to hear any sounds of pain or violence.