Home > Highlander Most Wanted (The Montgomerys and Armstrongs #2)(4)

Highlander Most Wanted (The Montgomerys and Armstrongs #2)(4)
Author: Maya Banks

“I have every confidence that is where he resides even now,” Genevieve said with quiet conviction.

“Take us to the others,” Bowen cut in, impatient to be done with the matter. “After meeting with your kin, I’ll decide what is to be done.”

“They are not my kin,” she said softly. “But I would see them treated fairly all the same.”

Perplexed by the mystery of Genevieve—just Genevieve—Bowen gestured toward the courtyard, indicating that Genevieve should proceed.

Ansel fled from Genevieve’s skirts and didn’t stop, disappearing into the keep up the steps from the courtyard.

Genevieve walked in a measured, unhurried pace, head held high, her dignity gathered round her like a cloak in winter. There was a serenity to her stance that seemed far too practiced, as though this were a defense mechanism, one with which she was well acquainted.

She was too calm, considering that she was facing an enemy army with vengeance and the thirst for blood on their minds. Most women—and men—would be terrified and likely pleading for mercy.

Not this woman.

She was regal and poised, almost as if she were the one granting them a favor by escorting them within. Bowen couldn’t detect a single quiver. Was she truly so unaffected, or was she merely a master at masking her emotions? Had her injury so numbed her to the judgment and reactions of others that she simply didn’t register all that went on around her?

Nay, he’d seen her initial response when he and his men had reacted to the shock of her scarred face. Though she’d quickly masked it, she’d been hurt and embarrassed by the collective horror that had arced through the assembled men.

It shamed him that he and his men had demonstrated such disrespect for a woman who was obviously gently born and bred. But the damage was done, and he couldn’t call back the reactions of himself or Teague and Eveline’s brothers.

The courtyard was barren. No sounds could be heard, not even in the distance. The wind kicked up, blowing cool where the sun had beat down on their heads.

When they mounted the steps into the keep, a nervous buzz could be heard from within. There was quiet weeping, and the low rumble of masculine voices offering words of comfort. But there was an edge, even in the men’s words, that couldn’t be mistaken.

They all awaited their fate.

Bowen stepped into the hall behind Genevieve, his expression grim and a sense of sadness gripping him. He had no desire to visit death and destruction upon the innocent. For the first time in a history steeped in violence, the future looked peaceful.

The Montgomerys had achieved at least a temporary truce with the Armstrongs—a genuine truce—sealed by Graeme’s marriage, and his love for Eveline Armstrong.

And the truth of it was that Bowen could find no fault with the Armstrongs for wanting only to protect Eveline. Tavis Armstrong seemed a fair, just man, as much as it pained Bowen to admit such.

When the McHugh clansmen caught sight of Genevieve, and then of the four men who strode in behind her, there was an instant barrage of noise. Babbling, the weeping intensified. Dark scowls adorned the men’s faces, and there were accusing glares from some of the women.

All directed at … Genevieve?

Bowen frowned in puzzlement, but before he could say anything two women launched a harsh accusation in Genevieve’s direction.

“How you must be gloating now,” one hissed. “Are you here to witness our murder? Did you offer to whore yourself to the enemy so that your position would be secure?”

“How could you?” the other demanded. “There are children here. Aye, mostly women and children and our husbands who remained behind, knowing their lives would surely be forfeit.”

More stepped forward as if to add their own condemnation, but Bowen took his own step forward, planting himself between Genevieve and the others.

Teague’s brows drew together and he moved to Genevieve’s side, but she seemed unruffled by the animosity directed at her. Her expression was passive and unreadable. No emotion shone in her eyes, and she stared ahead, her features set in stone.

Was the woman inhuman? No man or woman alive could stand by and suffer the insults thrown her way without some reaction. And yet Genevieve seemed impervious to it all.

“Careful how you malign your champion,” Bowen said, his voice cracking like a whip over the hall.

The crowd went utterly silent.

Aiden and Brodie stepped forward, their gazes sweeping over the gathered McHughs. They looked unimpressed. Bowen couldn’t fault their assessment. A more sorry lot of misfits he had never seen.

“Champion?” one woman asked, finally breaking the silence.

She looked terrified, but she stepped forward, her gaze going inquisitively to Genevieve.

“Is it true you championed us, Genevieve?”

Genevieve didn’t respond. Her gaze met the other woman’s unflinchingly, but she didn’t say aye or nay one way or another.

“No one could fault you if you had only saved yourself,” the woman added softly.

Then her eyes found Bowen’s and though she trembled, her hands quickly diving into her skirts to disguise how badly they shook, she met his gaze with courage.

“I know not what your plans are, sir, but I would ask two things of you.”

Bowen studied the young lass with interest. She was a brave slip of a thing, barely meeting his shoulder. He couldn’t discern her age, though she looked only on the cusp of womanhood. No doubt, given time, she would be a stunning lass, made only more so by her courage and fire.

Her hair was the color of wheat washed in moonlight. And her eyes were an arresting shade of blue-green that reminded him of the sea on a bright, sunlit day.

She took another step forward, and it was then he noticed that she walked with a limp. A grimace twisted her lips before she quickly forced it away. Her hand went to one of her clansmen, and he was quick to steady her so that she didn’t fall.

“What is your name, lass?” Bowen asked kindly, not wanting to reward her bravery by frightening the wits out of her.

“Taliesan,” she murmured, dipping into a curtsy that made Bowen afraid that she’d take a tumble.

He would have stepped forward in case she indeed teetered, but her clansman once more steadied her with his firm grip. Bowen nodded his approval to the older man, mentally making note of the man’s appearance. Bowen never forgot a good deed, and later he’d ensure that he and the man spoke privately.

A lot could be known of a man by observing his treatment of others. It was something Bowen’s father had taught him from a very early age. Robert Montgomery had always said that the words of a man were meaningless. But actions spoke volumes, and it was always through deeds that the true measure of a man could be ascertained.

“And what two things would you ask of me, Taliesan?” Bowen asked.

Taliesan’s cheeks colored, and Bowen could tell that she fought not to duck her head. Her hand gripped her clansman’s arm, but she firmed her lips and then stated her request.

“I would ask that you have mercy on my clansmen. ’Tis true that Ian and his father, our laird, acted without honor. And ’tis also true that an innocent woman suffered greatly at their hands. Ian is dead, by Graeme Montgomery’s own hand, and now Patrick has fled, leaving his clan to the fate that should be his.”

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