Muira’s laird and love is free, but their dreams of happiness are mired by her lingering doubts and the call of war. Servants and lairds alike warn her that all is not right with her true love and his ways. She can’t shake the possibility they are right, but his alluring eyes lead her onward down the path of sin and lust. However, what can’t be ignored is the neighboring clans as they learn of the death of the old laird and attempt to usurp the power of the new one. Muira’s laird is forced to play his hand to save the frantic villagers against a small army that marches on his lands. She prays for his success, but Muira is left to wonder to what god she prays for her laird’s good health.
I swept through the cold, dark passages of Campbell Castle and hurried to my Laird Tristan’s room. Leod waited where he had promised beside the door to my laird’s chambers. He smiled and bowed his head to me as I ran breathlessly up to him.
“My lady has done a great service to my master,” he thanked me.
I smiled at him. “No more than he would do for me,” I replied.
Leod grinned and nodded his head. “Aye, aye, Master Tristan would do anything for my lady. Would my lady wish to rest while she waits for my master?”
“I would like that very much,” I agreed.
The hour was past midnight, and the events of the night had caused a great strain on my mind and body. Leod guided me into the room and prepared the bed. The sheets were changed and tucked, and he stepped back.
“Leod will call you when my master commands it,” he offered as he took his muddied cloak from my shoulders.
My mind hearkened back to my purpose in being at the castle.
“But what of Aili? Or of Bean Lyel? They will want my services in only a few hours,” I told him.
“Master Tristan will see to them. Leod swears it,” he promised.
“Very well,” I agreed.
I climbed into the bed and lay my head down on one of the goose-down pillows. My exhaustion forced me into a deep sleep.
My next waking moment occurred at the sound of a soft whisper. I stirred and my eyes fluttered open. My bleary vision beheld a dark angel who leaned over me with a bright smile. I blinked, and the angel became my lover. His dark eyes swept over me and a small smile slipped onto his lips.
“Good morn to you, my love,” he whispered.
My eyes widened and I sat up so violently that I nearly knocked my forehead against his chin. I flung aside the sheets that lay over me and swung my legs over the bed.
“Morn! Has Bean Lyel called me? Does Aili wish for my help?” I asked my laird.
He stepped back and chuckled. “They won’t have the good fortune of your assistance.”
I felt the color drain from my face. My hands balled into fists in my lap and pulled at my dress as I looked into his face. “Then I. . .have I been dismissed from your service?”
Laird Tristan stretched out his arm and brushed the back of his hand against my cheek. “Such innocence. If I could bottle your loveliness I would keep it forever close to my heart.”
I blinked at him. “Then I. . .I have not been dismissed?”
He grinned and shook his head. “No. On the contrary, you have been promoted.”
“Promoted? But I have not earned such-” He pressed a finger to my lips.
“I won’t allow your modesty to dull the favor you performed for me last night,” he told me. His finger slipped from my lips and he stepped back to perform a low bow to me. “I am forever in your debt, my Lady, and for that I now grant you the favor of this promotion.”
“Am I to serve you personally?” I hoped.
He chuckled and lifted his head so I could see his sparkling eyes. “Very much so.”
“I will be your chambermaid?” I guessed.
He straightened and offered me his arm. “I must leave you in suspense for a few minutes longer, my love, but if you will follow me I will reveal to you your new position.”
I took his arm and he guided me towards the door. My eyes glanced at the floor and I covered my mouth with my free hand. The hem of my dress was caked in mud. The cloak had been too short to cover all that needed covered. I stopped and lifted my dress.
“I cannot go out in such a condition,” I told my laird.
“Why not?” he wondered.
“Because my dress would wound your pride,” I pointed out. I tried to remove my arm from his, but he held me tight and pulled my side against him.
“Though you were naked you would bring me nothing but pride,” he insisted. A lecherous smile slipped onto his red lips. “However, I would be jealous of others who would see you in such a state.”
“My laird, I beg leave of you to wash my-” He shook his head.
“We haven’t time, and I insist you come hear what news I have,” he commanded me.
I bowed my head, and he led me into the passage. The bright light of day streamed into the hall from the window at the end and told me the hour neared nine. We reached the landing and I beheld Leod with his wife Bean Lyel. Her lips were pursed so tightly together that they were white, and when she looked up at us I glimpsed a flash of hatred aimed at me. Leod turned to us and his face was brightened by a smile.
“My lady! My master!” he called to us. He moved to the foot of the stairs and bowed to us as we came down. “All is arranged. Leod has called Lady Annabel and Laird Graham to the Anointed Hall.”
“Very good. Have their carriage at the ready in case they should want to leave,” Tristan ordered him.
“As you wish, my master,” Leod agreed, and he hurried away to do his master’s bidding.
We turned to Bean Lyel, and I blushed when I noticed her narrowed eyes brushed over the filthy hem of my plain dress. She stiffly bowed her head.
“My Laird Tristan,” she greeted my lover.
“You have been told?” he asked her.
“Yes,” was her curt reply.
“And what is your decision?”
“I will remain as your obedient servant,” she replied.
I glanced from one to the other, but neither dined give me an answer to my insatiable curiosity.
“I am glad to hear you say so. You may resume your duties as though nothing has happened, but be prepared for changes,” he warned her.
She bowed her head. “As you wish, my laird.”
Tristan turned us away from Bean Lyel and to the doors of the Anointed Hall. We walked to them and Tristan opened one for me. I slipped inside, but shrank back when I beheld Lady Annabel and her father. They stood ten feet before the stone seat, and turned at our coming.
Lady Annabel sneered at me, but her expression changed when they fell on Tristan. Her face lit up and a smooth smile slipped onto her pert mouth. Laird Graham frowned at us both.
“What is this? We were summoned here for a private meeting with Laird Campbell,” he told us.
“Forgive me for the confusion,” Tristan replied as he led me over to the wooden chair. He placed me beside the seat and took his place before the throne. “Whatever you have to say may be said before my Lady.”
“What do I have to say to a servant and some pup I do not know?” Graham snapped.
Tristan smiled and lowered himself in to the chair. “But you will know me, Laird Graham, for I am Laird Campbell.”
Graham’s eyes widened and he sputtered spittle onto the floor. Lady Annabel blinked at us and glanced between Tristan and her father. The laird stepped in front of his daughter and pushed her away.
“Whoever you are, you are not the laird of this castle!” he argued.
“But I am as is my birth right,” my laird answered. He leaned forward and grinned at them. “You see, I am Laird Tristan Campbell, son of Kynan Campbell, fifteenth laird of the Campbell clan.”
Laird Graham started back at Tristan’s proclamation, and his daughter’s mouth opened.
“B-but you are dead!” Graham insisted. “Your father-”
“My father was a liar and a dishonorable man,” Tristan interrupted. He leaned back in the chair and a dark cloud passed over his face. “But that is no matter. I am the laird now, and seeing as how you are my guests I sought to tell you immediately of the change.”
Graham frowned and his eyes narrowed as they studied Tristan’s face. “But what has happened to Laird Campbell?”
“My father is dead. I am now laird of Castle Campbell,” he announced.
My eyes widened and I looked down at my love. His tense expression informed me that he spoke the truth. Old Laird Campbell was dead, and a nagging thought slipped into my mind that I was a party to his demise.
“Dead how?” Graham demanded to know.
“His heart gave out,” Tristan replied.
“But he was in excellent health just last evening,” Graham returned.
Tristan’s eyebrows crashed down, and he leaned forward and his arms were draped over either arm of the chair. “Do you doubt my word, Laird Graham?”
Graham straightened and bowed his head. “Forgive me, Laird Campbell, but I only sought to understand how circumstances had changed so much in one night.”
“You are not new to life, Laird Graham,” Tristan scolded him. “You should well know that life brings change more swiftly than the fastest river.”
“Aye, life brings quick and strange changes, but some changes may not need to occur,” Graham commented. He stepped aside and gestured to his daughter. “My daughter is still a free woman, and I offer her hand to you in marriage. She is young and-” Tristan held up his hand.
“It is a kind offer, but matters of succession are rarely easily dealt with,” Tristan told him. “My father’s enemies are now mine, and they will see my father’s death as a chance to take by the blade of a sword what my ancestors gave their blood and lives to possess.”
“That is why a union of our two houses is so important,” Graham insisted. He stepped up to the other side of the chair and clasped his chubby hands together. A wide smile graced his lips as his eyes swept over Tristan. “With our combined strengths we will be able to overcome any foe.”
Tristan stood and Graham scurried back. “I will fight my father’s enemies with my own powers.” Tristan smiled and offered his hand to Graham. “But if I should ever need your assistance I am glad to know you will give what may be needed.”
Graham’s smile froze on his face, but he took Tristan’s hand and bowed his head. “As you wish, my laird,” he answered.
Tristan removed his hand and looked between his guests. “With such bitter news out of the way, I am glad to offer you the hospitality of my home.”
Graham stepped back and bowed to my laird. “It would be an honor to remain under the hospitality of the new laird of Castle Campbell.”
My laird smiled. “Excellent. If it pleases you then we may have breakfast in a short while.”
“What of the girl behind you?” Lady Annabel spoke up.
Tristan turned to me and searched where I stood. “I see no girl, but a woman.”
Annabel’s tense smile momentarily vanished from her lips before it returned. “The serving girl,” she persisted.
Tristan frowned and glanced over his shoulder at Annabel. “Do you infer that my bride is a mere servant?”
I heard him refer to me as his bride, and my mouth dropped open and my eyes widened. My gaze turned to his face and I glimpsed only a fierce honesty.
Annabel choked on her surprise. “Bride? My laird, surely you jest.”
“I do no such thing regarding matters of love,” he snapped.
Graham stepped between his daughter and Tristan, and bowed to my laird. “I apologize, my laird. My daughter is upset at the sudden loss of your father, and some food and rest would do her well.”
“I will overlook the slight this instance, Laird Graham, but see that your daughter is taught proper respect for what is mine,” Tristan demanded.
“Of course, my laird. Anything you desire,” Graham assured him. He grasped his daughter’s shoulders and led her from the room.
Tristan turned to me and smiled. “What thinks you of your new position, my bride?”