Devil of the Highlands Chapter Fifteen

Biddy would have killed him did he try.

Evelinde stared at the crack of light coming through the window a couple of feet from the bed and yawned wearily. She hadn't slept well last night. Her mind had been taken up with what she'd learned from Tralin. Cullen had returned to the keep after Tralin had spoken those words, preventing her asking further questions, but it hadn't stopped Evelinde from thinking over everything she'd learned.

While Tralin had said he was sure Darach wouldn't have ruined Jenny by taking her as a lover, he hadn't appeared certain. The only thing that might suggest Darach hadn't been Jenny's lover was that Tavis had told her that his father had ridden out of the bailey just before Jenny had gone for her walk the day she'd come back weeping and fled. However, it was possible Darach had ridden out and around the curtain wall to the cliffs. He could have been the girl's lover.

It didn't speak well of either Biddy's sister or husband if they were lovers, but if Darach was as bad as Tavis, Evelinde didn't think his conscience would trouble him much. She certainly didn't see much in the way of conscience in Tavis when it came to the way he dallied with the women here. He got what he could from each woman and went merrily on his way to the next like a bee flitting from flower to flower, uncaring of the havoc he left behind.

As for Biddy's sister, Jenny had been betrothed to a horrid man known for his cruelty and abuses. She may have been desperate enough to get involved with her sister's husband in a bid to save herself, or simply for a last grab at happiness before being forced into the marriage.

Evelinde could almost understand that herself. Her own behavior the day she'd learned she was to marry the Devil of Donnachaidh had been less than exemplary. She had let Cullen kiss and touch her in ways she still found difficult to believe. And she had justified it by using the horrid marriage she'd thought was in her future. Telling herself it was the only pleasure she might experience in her life. She couldn't even honestly say she would have pushed him away sooner had she known he was married, though she'd like to think she would have had she had a sister and he been her brother-in-law. And she wasn't even as young as Jenny had been.

Evelinde yawned again and sighed as she thought that a child like Jenny might be able to justify taking her sister's husband as a lover that way. She might even have hoped the man might somehow find a way to save her from the marriage.

She frowned at the possibilities floating around in her mind. Had Biddy found out her sister and husband were lovers? Was this one indiscretion she hadn't been willing to forgive Darach? And why had Jenny returned after leaving so abruptly? Had she even really killed herself. It was possible she'd felt bad about dallying with her sister's husband and killed herself, but it was possible her death was just another murder covered up.

Biddy could have murdered Jenny and her husband after finding out about them, she supposed, but if so, why kill Cullen's father all those years later, she wondered. Had Cullen's father, Liam, somehow figured out what had happened all those years, confronted her, and brought about his own death? Or perhaps that had simply been an effort to correct the injustice Biddy might have felt she'd caused by killing Darach while her son was too young to take over the position of laird. Her own son had been passed over due to Darach's premature death. She may have hoped the title would be passed on to her son rather than Cullen if she killed Liam.

As for Maggie, either the questions she'd asked had made Biddy nervous enough to make her kill her, or Maggie had actually somehow stumbled onto the truth, bringing about her own death.

Evelinde scowled at her own thoughts. While it all made a sort of sense, she found it hard to see Biddy as a ravening murderer, running about killing off all those people; her own sister, her husband, her brother-in-law, and her nephew's wife. Besides, Evelinde liked Biddy and didn't want to believe the woman was trying to kill her.

She really had to sort the matter out and quickly, Evelinde decided, but just wasn't quite sure how. Talking to Biddy wasn't likely to get her any answers. The woman would either be insulted if she was innocent or just lie and deny everything if she was guilty.

Evelinde supposed she could try sneaking into Biddy's room when she wasn't around and seeing if there was something that would help her find out what had happened. Letters from Biddy to her sister and back, a diary… or maybe a written confession lying around, she thought dryly, and shifted impatiently in the bed. Still, it was worth doing.

"What has ye all upset?" The sleepy question sounded by her ear as Cullen cuddled up behind her, one arm slipping around her body.

"What makes you think I am upset?" Evelinde asked rather than answer, her hand covering his where it rested beneath her breast on top of the linens and furs.

"Because ye were sighing and huffing loud enough to wake me," he answered, and began to nuzzle her ear.

"I was not," Evelinde said a bit breathlessly, her eyes drooping closed as his lips moved over her neck.

"Aye, ye were," Cullen assured her, tugging down the linens and furs that covered her to expose her naked breasts to his seeking hand.

"Oh," Evelinde breathed, as his hand closed over one breast and he began to fondle her, his hips pressing more firmly forward so that she could feel the hardness growing between them.

"What were ye thinking about?" he asked, nibbling at her shoulder now.

Evelinde swallowed, finding it difficult to think while he was touching her so.

"Tell me," he insisted on a whisper, his hand leaving her breast briefly to slip between them to rearrange himself so that his hardness pressed between her legs and against her wet core.

Evelinde groaned as he then shifted his hips, rubbing himself across the bud of her excitement as his hand moved back to her breast.

"Tell me," Cullen repeated, plucking at her nipple as he continued to move his hips.

"About Jenny and Darach and whether they were lovers and Biddy didn't find out and kill them and—" Her words died abruptly as he suddenly stilled.

"Jenny and Darach?" he said blankly, and Evelinde twisted slightly so that she could see his face. He was looking stunned by the very suggestion.

"I know it seems unlikely," Evelinde said apologetically, "but Tavis said that Jenny was meeting a lover out on the cliffs, and Tralin suggested that Darach paid the girl a lot of attention and she seemed to have feelings for him. If Darach was like Tavis is with women, and if Jenny was really as naive as everyone thought…"

She didn't finish the words but let him come to his own conclusion, then added, "It may be a coincidence that Jenny died two weeks before the accident that killed Darach, but I find it hard to believe that she is not somehow involved. Both your father and little Maggie died in falls from the same cliff where she killed herself and was laid to rest."

Cullen was completely still and silent, but she could see the thoughts racing through his eyes, then suddenly he was rolling away from her and getting out of bed.

"Husband?" Evelinde frowned and tossed the linens aside to follow. She frowned again when she saw he was dressing, his expression grim. Biting her lip, she asked worriedly, "What are you going to do?"

"Leave it to me. I shall tend to it," Cullen said firmly as he fastened his plaid.

Evelinde worried her lip as she watched him don his sword and sgian dubh, then said, "Pray, husband, do not take this to Biddy. I may be completely wrong about all this and would not see her hurt until we are sure one way or the other."

"Leave it to me," Cullen repeated. When he saw the worry on her face, he frowned and moved before her to take her by the arms. "I'll not have ye fretting over this. Ye've suffered enough under all these attempts on yer life. I want ye happy and content wife. I love ye."

Evelinde's eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open at the blunt announcement, which was rather fortuitous because it meant Cullen didn't have to urge her mouth open when he bent to kiss her. It was a very quick but thorough kiss, then Cullen set her away and headed for the door. "Get dressed. I'll be sending the men up to watch ye the minute I get below."

Evelinde was still blinking over his words when the door closed behind him. He loved her. He'd said he loved her. Dear God, her husband loved her. She moved to the bed and dropped to sit on it, then in the next moment was popping back up and rushing to dress. Cullen was going to send up whoever was guarding her today the minute he got below, and once her guards were on her, there was no possibility she could search Biddy's room. Not that Evelinde thought she was likely to find anything of use in the woman's room. Still, it was worth trying.

She had her clothes on in a trice, and didn't bother with her hair except to pull it back. Hurrying to the door then, Evelinde eased it open and peered out into the hall, relieved to find it still empty. The men had not yet made their way above stairs. She was about to slip out of the room when the door to Biddy's room suddenly opened and she saw the little woman bustle out and head for the stairs. Fortunately, Biddy never even glanced in her direction.

Thanking her lucky stars that she hadn't already been trying to creep into the woman's room when Biddy had come out, Evelinde waited until Biddy was out of view on the stairs, then slid from her own room, eased the door closed, and crept silently up the hall.

Cullen was in the solar, examining the floor. He'd been headed for the stairs when it occurred to him that Evelinde and Mildrede would probably wish to continue with their project to clean out the room. Suddenly worried the floor might not be stable after the fire, he'd changed direction and come to the solar instead, which was why he was on his haunches when he heard the door and saw Biddy bustle past. He didn't say anything to draw attention to his presence in the shadows of the room, but simply listened to her rapid tread as she hurried to the stairs and down.

He then lowered his gaze to the floor once more, but his mind was on what his wife had said in their room. Tavis thought Jenny had a lover? And Tralin thought the girl had had feelings for Darach?

It appeared he'd been a very unobservant lad, because Cullen hadn't seen any of this at the time. Though, now that his wife had said the words, he did recall that Jenny used to light up like a torch put to flame every time his uncle entered the same room. And he could recall his and Tralin coming upon her once when her cheeks had been flushed, her lips swollen, and her gown wrinkled, the lacings not properly done up. They'd even teased her about it at the time, suggesting she must have been kissing one of the squires though they hadn't really believed it. As pretty as she'd been, Jenny always seemed so prim and snobby that Cullen found it difficult to imagine anyone wanting to kiss her. She really appeared to be a proper little thing. He was sure she never would have been caught riding around in nothing but a wet chemise, her horse's reins in her mouth and her wet gown held overhead to dry.

The memory of his first sight of his wife made Cullen smile. Evelinde, he was sure, was special, unlike any other woman in the world. She chattered away like a child one moment and snapped at him like a harpy the next, but when he kissed her, she melted like butter on a warm bit of bread. She was everything he could have wished for in a wife if he'd taken the time to worry about such things before marrying her. His only hope at the time he'd agreed to the wedding was a woman he could bear to live with, but Evelinde was much more than that, she was a woman he could, and did, love.

Cullen just wished he hadn't blurted the words out to her this morning as he had. He hadn't meant to. That had just happened. Unfortunately, Evelinde's response had been less than flattering. Her eyes had gone wide and her mouth had dropped and she'd stood there staring at him as if he'd suddenly sprouted horns. Cullen had then kissed her just to keep her from saying something he might not want to hear, but knew he'd have to hear her response eventually. He wasn't foolish enough to hope the woman loved him in return. As she had pointed out more than once, she hardly knew him thanks to his tendency not to speak. That was something he supposed he should do something about.

First, however, he had to unravel the matter of who was trying to kill her, Cullen thought, and what she'd said that morning had turned his suspicions firmly in Biddy's direction. He stood slowly, considering the matter. Asking his aunt questions wasn't likely to get him anywhere, but a talk with Lady Comyn might shed some light on things. She hadn't visited as often then as she had when his mother was alive, but she had visited a couple of times while Jenny was at Donnachaidh and might have picked up on a thing or two.

He could also search Biddy's room, Cullen supposed, and see if there was anything in there that might help him solve this matter. Although he couldn't imagine what that might be. Still, he knew Biddy wasn't in there at the moment, and it wouldn't hurt to look around… but first he had to wring his lovely wife's neck, Cullen thought, as Evelinde suddenly crept past the open door of the solar.

Evelinde was concentrating so hard on her feet to keep from making a sound that she—like Biddy before her—didn't even cast a glance into the solar where he stood. If she had looked his way, what she would have seen was one very angry husband. Cullen had made it very clear that she was not to go anywhere without her guards, yet here she was, creeping about.

Cullen moved silently forward to follow his wife's progress. His eyebrows rose when she paused at Biddy's door and slid silently inside. It seemed he wasn't the only one who'd thought to examine his aunt's room. It was no wonder he liked his wife, Cullen decided. It seemed obvious they thought much alike.

Shaking his head, he stepped out of the solar, intending to follow Evelinde and probably scare the goodness out of her by entering while she was inside. He'd feel bad about that prospect, except that it was little more than she deserved for putting herself at risk by creeping around on her own when she knew someone was trying to kill her. If she didn't care for her own well-being, she could at least consider his feelings in the matter. He loved the woman and had no desire to experience life without her. That was odd, he supposed. Until a very short time ago, he couldn't have imagined life with a woman like her, and before meeting her, his life had seemed just fine, not horrible or lonely, but… fine. Now, however, he knew that life would be a much gloomier, unhappy existence without her there.

Cullen had just stepped out of the solar when a sound by the stairs made him pause and swing back. His eyebrows rose with alarm when he saw Biddy stepping onto the landing and bustling toward him, obviously headed for her room.

Once safely inside Biddy's room, Evelinde leaned against the wall with a little sigh. This sneaking about business was all rather worrying.

Grimacing, she peered around the room, only to glance nervously toward the door as she thought she heard the murmur of voices from the hall. No doubt it was Gillie and Rory, or Tavis and Fergus, or perhaps some other combination of the men, sent up to guard her, Evelinde thought, then frowned as she realized that she had trapped herself nicely. With the men in the hall it would be impossible to leave unnoticed. That gave her pause. Why hadn't she considered that when she'd had this brilliant idea?

Sighing, Evelinde glanced back to the room. There was little she could do about the men now. She was here and might as well look around. If, by some chance, she did find something in the room to help sort out the past and what was happening now, Evelinde wouldn't care if the men saw her leaving the room and knew she'd been searching it.

That was her greatest hope at the moment. She was determined to resolve this matter. So far she'd gotten lucky and survived these attempts on her life relatively unscathed, but Cullen could have been seriously injured or even killed trying to save her from the fire, and she would not see the man in such a situation again. She loved him. And he loved her.

A small smile curved her lips. "I love ye," he'd said like he was saying he liked her hair. Leave it to her husband to announce it like he was telling her the time of day. The man was definitely not a romantic, but she could live with that. She could even live with his distressing refusal to speak much. However, she didn't think she could live without him in her life. Evelinde found she'd begun to depend on his silent strength and consideration.

She also had no desire to die before enjoying their love for a while… and perhaps having a babe or two. A little Cullen would please her. She would enjoy watching him grow into as fine a man as his father. Hopefully, her influence would make him a little more talkative, she thought with amusement, then turned her attention to the room.

What had Maggie discovered? Evelinde wondered as she peered around the chamber. It was a much smaller room than the one she shared with Cullen. There also wasn't much in it. A bed was pressed up against the far wall. There was a small table next to it with a half-used candle in an iron holder on it, and there was a bow and a quiver of arrows leaning up against one of three large chests against the wall at the foot of the bed.

Evelinde moved farther into the room, intending to start with the chests, but then paused and moved to the bed, some instinct making her kneel to peer under it. Despite having thought to look there, she was surprised to see something in the shadows underneath. Reaching in, she grabbed what felt like a leather bag and tugged it partially out, frowning when she saw that it was merely another quiver of arrows. Evelinde was about to push it back under the bed when she noticed the fletching on the arrows. Pausing, she drew it back out and examined them more closely. Each one was a combination of white and darker feathers in an alternating pattern. Just like the arrow in the chest in the chamber Evelinde shared with her husband. The one covered with dried blood, she recalled, and wondered what that might mean. It seemed obvious the arrow in the chest in their room was probably from this quiver.

But why was it in the chest, and whose blood was on it?

Shrugging the problem away for now, she slid the arrow back into the quiver and returned it under the bed, then stood and moved over to the second quiver leaning against one of the chests. A quick glance proved that the fletching in those arrows was all made up of darker feathers, probably goose, she thought. That was what was most commonly used.

Evelinde wasn't sure what the white feathers came from. Her guess would be that they were swan feathers, but those were rare to be found in an arrow. Not unheard of, but rare. At least they were in England. She wasn't surprised that Cullen's aunt had a bow and arrows. Biddy had mentioned that she liked to hunt for animals for her pot on occasion. It did surprise her that she had two different sets of arrows, however.

Shrugging that aside, Evelinde turned her attention to the chests. She knelt before the first one and opened it to find that it looked to be full of gowns. She quickly rifled through the clothing inside, doing her best not to disarrange the gowns too much and give away that they'd been searched. It slowed her down a little, but Evelinde wasn't yet sure that Biddy was guilty of anything and didn't wish to upset her unnecessarily… at least, not until she was sure.

When clothes were all she found in the first trunk, Evelinde eased the chest closed again and stood to move in front of the next of the three. The first held linens and pillows and other such items, but nothing more than that. Disappointed, she closed it and turned to the last chest. The moment she opened it, Evelinde let her breath out on a little sigh. This one immediately showed more promise. It held items obviously belonging to a male, Darach's things, she supposed, but more importantly, there was a stack of letters at the bottom of the chest.

Evelinde lifted them out and began to open them, feeling guilty for invading Biddy's privacy as she did but determined to learn what she could. There were many letters. Evelinde went through them quickly, but had nearly reached the bottom of the pile before she came across letters between Jenny and Biddy. She slowed then and actually began to read them.

The first letter was simply about Jenny's planned visit to Donnachaidh. Jenny had been excited at the prospect of seeing her older sister. It seemed Jenny had never been to Donnachaidh and Biddy's own visits back to her childhood home of MacFarlane, had been few and far between. Both seemed happy at the prospect of seeing each other.

The second letter was more of the same, but had been written much closer to the actual trip and the young woman's excitement and anticipation nearly leapt off the page.

It was the last note, however, that made Evelinde sit back on her heels to read more carefully rather than merely skim it. It was the last letter Jenny had ever written and the tone was much much different from the others. That Jenny had been weary and unhappy and the note was to tell Biddy that she was about to kill herself and why.

Evelinde let her breath out slowly as she closed the letter. It was poignant and sad and so full of betrayal and hopelessness that tears had welled in her eyes as she'd read it. Closing the chest, she got wearily to her feet, and tucked the letter into her pocket. She had to talk to Biddy, and this time she wouldn't let the older woman avoid answering her questions.

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