Devil in Winter Page 12

Withdrawing a square of wool from the ring box, MacPhee spread it on the anvil and tenderly placed a selection of a half-dozen rings on the fabric. Evie leaned closer to view them. The rings, all gold bands of varying sizes and patterns, were so exquisite and delicate that it seemed impossible for them to have been created by the blacksmith’s burly, broad-fingered hands. “This one is thistles an’ knotwork,” MacPhee said, holding one up for her inspection. “This is a key pattern, an’ this, a Shetland rose.”

Evie picked up the smallest of the rings and tried it on the fourth finger of her left hand. It fit perfectly. Raising it closer to her face, she examined the design. It was the simplest of all the rings, a polished gold band engraved with the words Tha Gad Agam Ort. “What does this mean?” she asked MacPhee.

“It says, ‘My love is upon ye.’”

There was no sound or movement from St. Vincent. Evie flushed in the awkward silence that followed, and slipped the ring off, now regretting having taken any interest in the rings. The sentiment of the phrase was so out of place in this hasty ceremony that it emphasized what a hollow mockery of a wedding it was. “I don’t think I want one after all,” she mumbled, placing the little ring gently onto the cloth.

“We’ll take it,” St. Vincent stunned her by saying. He picked up the gold circlet. As Evie glanced up at him with wide eyes, he added curtly, “They’re just words. It means nothing.”

Evie nodded and bent her head, her violent blush remaining.

MacPhee regarded the two of them with a frown and pulled on the side whiskers of his right cheek. “Lasses,” he said to his daughters with determined cheer, “we’ll have a song from ye now.”

“A song—” St. Vincent protested, and Evie tugged at his arm.

“Let them,” she murmured. “The more you argue, the longer it will take.”

Swearing beneath his breath, St. Vincent stared at the anvil with a narrowed gaze, while the sisters crooned in practiced harmony.

Oh, my love is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June

Oh, my love is like a melody

That’s sweetly played in tune

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

so deep in love am I

And I will love thee still, my dear

Till all the seas gang dry…

Listening to his daughters with glowing pride, the blacksmith waited until the last drawn-out note was finished, and then he praised them lavishly. He turned to the couple by the anvil and said importantly, “Now I maun ask ye this: Are ye both unmarried persons?”

“Yes,” St. Vincent replied shortly.

“An’ have ye a ring for the lass?”

“You just—” St. Vincent stopped with a muttered imprecation as MacPhee’s bushy brows raised expectantly. Clearly if they wanted the ceremony to be done with, they would have to follow the blacksmith’s lead. “Yes,” he growled. “I have one right here.”

“Then place it on the lass’s finger, an’ match yer hand to hers.”

Evie felt queer and light-headed as she stood facing St. Vincent. The moment he slid the ring onto her finger, her heart began beating much too fast, setting off reckless currents of something that was neither eagerness nor fear, but a new emotion that heightened her senses unbearably. There was no word for it, this feeling. Tension gripped her while the pounding of her pulse refused to abate. Their hands flattened together, his fingers much longer than hers, his palm smooth and hot.

His head inclined slightly, his face covering hers. Although he was expressionless, a hint of color had glazed the high planes of his cheekbones and crossed the bridge of his nose. And his breath was faster than usual. Surprised by the realization that she had already come to know something as intimate as the normal rhythm of his breathing, Evie averted her gaze. She saw the blacksmith taking a length of white ribbon from one of his daughters, and she flinched a little as he looped it firmly around their joined wrists.

A wordless murmur tickled her ear, and she felt St. Vincent’s free hand come up to the side of her neck, stroking her as if she were a nervous animal. She relaxed at his touch, while his fingertips moved over her skin with sensitive lightness.

MacPhee busily wrapped the ribbon around their wrists. “Now we tie the knot,” he said, doing so with a flourish. “Repeat after me, lass…‘I do take thee to my husband.’”

“I do take thee to my husband,” Evie whispered.

“Milord?” the blacksmith prompted.

St. Vincent looked down at her, his eyes cool and diamond-bright, revealing nothing. And yet she sensed somehow that he too felt the queer, eager tension that was building between them, a charge as strong as lightning.

His voice was low and quiet. “I do take thee to my wife.”

Satisfaction rang in MacPhee’s voice. “Before God an’ these witnesses I declare ye to be married persons. Whom God hath joined let no man put asunder. That will be eighty-two pounds, three crowns, an’ one shilling.”

St. Vincent tore his gaze from Evie with difficulty and glanced at the blacksmith with a raised eyebrow.

“‘Tis fifty pounds for the ring,” MacPhee said in answer to the wordless question.

“Fifty pounds for a ring with no stones?” St. Vincent inquired acidly.

“That’s Scottish gold,” MacPhee said, looking indignant that his price should be called into question. “Frae the burns o’ the Lowther hills it came—”

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