Home > Highlander Most Wanted (The Montgomerys and Armstrongs #2)(5)

Highlander Most Wanted (The Montgomerys and Armstrongs #2)(5)
Author: Maya Banks

Taliesan turned her head, sweeping her gaze over the men, women, and children stuffed into the great hall.

“We have no place to go. We have no other home than here. We would serve you and your laird well.”

Teague, Aiden, and Brodie were no less affected by her eloquent plea than Bowen himself. But it angered him that, so far, the only people who’d had courage enough to confront him had been a mere lad and two fragile lasses. What manner of clan was this to allow their women and children to fight their battles for them? The women and children should be cherished above all else and protected fiercely. It appalled him that so little value was placed on their position in the clan.

“And what other thing would you ask, lass?” Bowen asked, hoping to give himself some time for the flames of anger to die down. He wanted to haul every last man into the courtyard and beat them all soundly.

Taliesan licked her lips and, after a nervous glance at her clansmen, directed her gaze at Genevieve.

“I would ask that Genevieve bear no ill treatment at your hands. She has suffered enough.”

Genevieve’s features tightened in horror, the first sign of emotion she’d displayed since they’d entered the hall.

“Talie, no!” Genevieve whispered harshly. “Please, do not! I beg you!”

Bowen’s brows lifted, surprised that this proud lass would beg anything after the courage and haughtiness she’d demonstrated. What could she possibly not want Taliesan to relate?

Taliesan glanced unhappily at Genevieve, but she did as Genevieve asked and fell silent.

There were disapproving looks cast Taliesan’s way. Lips curled. Nostrils flared. Hostile glares were directed at Genevieve.

Bowen wasn’t even sure how to respond to such a slight, though he was sure that Taliesan had intended no offense. Not only had his honor been called into question, but he was extremely curious as to what Taliesan had meant by her cryptic statement. Genevieve looked so mortified, however, that he couldn’t bring himself to demand an explanation, even if it was what he felt compelled to do. There would be plenty of time to sort out this mystery later. First, he had to make it clear that he wasn’t some monster lusting after the blood of the innocent.

“I assure you, I have no intention of mistreating Genevieve or anyone else under my care,” Bowen said, the reprimand clear in his voice.

Taliesan flushed and dropped her gaze, but she offered no apology, and, oddly, Bowen respected her all the more for it.

“Then what do you mean to do with us?”

Bowen’s eyebrow arched in surprise, as, finally, one of the McHugh men found his cods and spoke up.

“And here I thought the McHugh clan depended on their women and children to go to battle for them,” Bowen said, disgust evident in his words.

The men in the room bristled and stiffened. Some of their faces went red with anger, but others darkened with shame, and they averted their eyes. They well knew what Bowen meant.

“ ’Tis a disgrace to send a lad waving a flag of surrender,” Teague growled, speaking up for the first time. He was positively seething with anger and disgust, and now that Bowen had addressed the issue, Teague was only too eager to voice his dissatisfaction as well.

Aiden and Brodie both nodded, their arms crossed menacingly over their chests. Brodie, especially, looked furious. For a moment, Bowen truly worried that he and Teague would have to intervene, because Brodie looked as though he wanted to take on every McHugh man gathered in the hall and bathe in their blood.

“And your women do all the talking on your behalf,” Brodie added. “Why are they not better protected? Why are they left to confront your enemy? ’Tis disgraceful. What measure of man not only allows such a thing but encourages it?”

The man who’d posed the question as to their fate took a step forward, his expression grim and ashamed. But he met the gazes of Bowen, Teague, Aiden, and Brodie unflinchingly, his chin lifted as if to convey that he’d take their censure and whatever retaliation they wished to mete out.

“We worried that if a warrior met you at the gates it would be seen as a challenge, and we had no wish to wage war against you. We know we’re outnumbered and outmanned. Patrick McHugh was not a man well versed in training. And Ian—”

He broke off, clearing his throat in obvious discomfort.

“I would speak freely if I may, good sir. ’Tis not respectful, what I have to say, but ’tis the truth all the same.”

Bowen nodded. “By all means. I would have your honesty. By what name are you called?”

“Tearlach McHugh.”

“Carry on, then, Tearlach.”

“Ian was a dishonorable man. Not only for his treatment of those weaker than himself, but for his tactics in warfare. He’d stab a man in his back rather than ever face him in a fair fight. We aren’t trained, Montgomery. ’Tis readily apparent enough. We wouldn’t have stood a chance against you, and so those of us who remained behind decided to place our fate in your hands and that of your laird’s. ’Twas our only choice. We have wives and children, and we have no wish to die and leave them uncared for and unprotected, even though you think we do neither.”

It was a sincere speech, one that impressed Bowen for its honesty. It was apparent that he had no liking for speaking ill of his laird’s dead son, but he stated the truth matter-of-factly.

“I appreciate your candor, and I’ll return the favor by being just as straightforward,” Bowen said, sweeping over the assembled crowd with his gaze.

Genevieve hadn’t moved. She stood stock-still, her hands folded rigidly in front of her. And her eyes looked so far away that Bowen doubted she had any idea of what went on around her. It was as if, just for a time, she’d taken herself to another place.

Her scarred cheek was turned away from him, and he marveled at how beautiful she was with her profile presented. Never had he seen a woman to rival her, and yet when both sides of her face were visible it was startling how that beauty was transformed into something pitiable.

There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but none were appropriate to the occasion. He couldn’t afford to become distracted from his goal. His brother had tasked him with this duty, and Bowen would fulfill it at all cost.

“My brother, Laird Montgomery, is with his wife, Eveline, whom Ian captured and sorely abused. He will remain at her side until he’s satisfied that she has fully recovered and is safe from any and all threats. Patrick McHugh is a threat to Eveline and to both the Montgomery and the Armstrong clans. And we do not tolerate any threat.”

The people tightly grouped together in the hall began to grow nervous. Their agitation was evident as they began to fidget and exchange fearful glances.

“I claim this holding and all that belongs to Patrick McHugh for my laird until such time as he decides what is to be done with the land, the keep … and the people.”

Bowen held up a hand when everyone began talking at once.

“My brother is a fair and just man. Give me, and him, no reason to call you enemy and you will fare well. For the interim, I will act as laird and my brother will assist me in compiling a full report as to the workings of this keep and land so that I may pass it to Laird Montgomery and he may determine what is to be done. If you work hard and give me no cause to doubt your loyalty, there will be no issues. If you betray my trust, you will be dealt with swiftly and severely. There will be no second chances. Are we understood?”

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