Devil of the Highlands Chapter Eight

Marriage was horrible.

Evelinde grimaced as the thought ran through her head for about the hundredth time since she'd sat down to mend a small tear in her green gown. It was three days since the Comyns had visited. Evelinde had quite enjoyed seeing them once she was dressed properly. Ellie, Lady Comyn, was a charming, amusing, and elegant woman like her own mother had been. The sort of woman Evelinde had hoped to be, but apparently had failed miserably at becoming.

Sighing, she sewed another stitch, her eyes seeking out her husband where he sat at the table talking to Fergus. Apparently, Cullen could speak, Evelinde thought bitterly as she watched his mouth move in what appeared to be a whole sentence rather than one of the grunts he doled out to her.

The man rarely bothered actually to say anything to her. Evelinde tried repeatedly to engage him in conversation with no success. Hoping to encourage him, she'd chattered on about her life growing up, her parents, her brother, her mare, and so on. She'd even managed to slip in a reference to her beloved tapestries and her sorrow that she hadn't been able to bring them. What she'd spoken of most, though, was Mildrede and Mac. She missed them terribly and said so at every opportunity In turn, Cullen had grunted.

He hadn't even given her an answer when she'd asked what duties he would like her to take on now that she was at Donnachaidh. Met with the usual discouraging silence, she'd let that go to keep her promise to Biddy and asked if he couldn't have some men aid the women with the heavier tasks in the kitchens and elsewhere in the castle. All she'd received for her trouble was a look that suggested the very idea was mad.

If it weren't for the fact that Evelinde had seen his lips move in what appeared to be actual conversations with others, she would have thought the man incapable of forming whole sentences. However, she had, and Evelinde now suspected the truth was that he simply didn't care to trouble himself to speak to her. She was beginning to think he was regretting their marriage. Not that he was mean or cruel, but he also hadn't touched her again since consummating the marriage. It seemed that what she had thought was a beautiful, exciting, and world-shattering event had not even been enjoyable for Cullen. Else why had he not repeated the experience?

That was the question running repeatedly through her mind as she'd lain in the dark next to him at night, listening to him breathe: Why did he not touch her again?

Evelinde was miserable. She missed Mildrede and Mac, felt bereft and lost in her new home, and had not even her husband's kisses and caresses to comfort her. Instead, she moped about during the day and lay awake in bed at night, tears streaming silently from her eyes as she imagined this to be her life from now on: a silent, uncaring husband and not even a friend to speak to.

Well, there was Biddy, Evelinde reminded herself. But Cullen's aunt was forever busy, hustling about the kitchen, directing staff and chopping up chickens or performing other such tasks. Evelinde hated to bother her while she was so busy filling in for Donnachaidh's normal cook, so tried to avoid pestering her too much, which left her lonely, and growing more so all the time, to the point that last night she'd wished briefly that she were back at d'Aumesbery. While Edda could make life unpleasant, at least Evelinde had someone to talk to there, and during those rare moments when she managed to get away from the keep, she'd found peace and a measure of happiness riding Lady or sitting by the clearing. Something she feared she would never find at Donnachaidh.

Aye, it was turning out that marriage was not as wonderful as she'd thought the day after arriving here. Evelinde sighed as she noted that the last few stitches she'd sewn were crooked. Grimacing, she began to tear them out. It seemed she could not do anything right anymore. At least nothing she'd attempted to do here had met with any measure of success. She couldn't get her husband to talk, couldn't sew a straight line, and couldn't even gain a bit of information that would help her sort out why Cullen's uncle, father, and wife might have been murdered.

Evelinde sighed again as she thought on the last subject. When she hadn't been trying to get her husband to talk these last few days, or tending to her duties here as Lady Donnachaidh, she'd spent her time delving into the matter of the three deaths.

All she'd really done was ask questions. Evelinde had started with his aunt, trying to be casual about it, but Biddy had caught on to what she was up to at once and told her to "let it lie. The last thing Cullen needs is another dead wife." Evelinde had reluctantly given up on quizzing the woman and turned to asking her questions of others instead. She'd spoken to several maids, Scatchy—who it turned out was the stable master—Fergus, and a few others, but none of them had been very forthcoming on the subject either. All she'd gained was a stern lecture from Fergus assuring her that her husband had not killed anyone and that she shouldn't believe the rumors and nonsense.

Cullen was a good man, he'd informed her, and she should concentrate on being a good wife to him. Feeling suitably chastened, Evelinde had let the subject drop at once.

So far, she had got nowhere with that effort. It was another failure, in her mind, and it irritated Evelinde because she wasn't even sure why she had troubled herself to ask around about the subject. She'd started out telling herself it was because she wanted to do something nice for her husband in return for his thoughtfulness in packing a bag for her, but suspected the truth was that, like his first wife, little Maggie, she was hoping to win his affection, or at least his attention, by clearing his name.

And was that not a sad state of affairs? Evelinde thought to herself with disgust. She did not even know why she cared. 'Twas a marriage, and marriages rarely included love. They were business associations. Through their marriage, Cullen had gained a healthy dower, and she'd gained a home for the rest of her days. Without it, she would have either been a burden to her brother, living at d'Aumesbery like Edda would, or she would have found herself shipped off to a nunnery. Love wasn't a part of marriage. Her parents hadn't loved each other when they'd first wed, that had come later, and they'd been lucky to find it. Most husbands and wives didn't come to love each other.

"My lady."

"Aye?" Evelinde glanced up to see who addressed her and gasped, "Mildrede!"

The maid laughed gaily as Evelinde tossed her sewing aside and threw herself out of the chair and into the maid's arms.

"Oh, Mildrede, I have missed you so!"

"And I, you," the maid assured her with a laugh as she hugged her back.

"What are you doing here?" Evelinde asked, pulling back just far enough to see her face.

Mildrede's eyebrows rose at the question. "Where else would I be? I am your lady's maid. My place is with you."

"Aye, but—" Evelinde paused, confusion rife within her. She turned to seek out her husband for an explanation, but her gaze caught on the man standing a couple of feet behind the maid, and her eyes widened incredulously. "Mac?"

His dear face split into a wide grin at her disbelief and he nodded. " 'Tis I."

Slipping from Mildrede's hold, Evelinde now hurried to the man and gave him a hug as well. "I cannot believe you are here."

"Nor can I," he admitted wryly. "Never thought I'd see me beloved Scotland again, but here I be, and glad of it," he added grimly. "We couldna leave d'Aumesbery quick enough fer me liking. Edda was taking out her temper on all and sundry once ye were no there for her to focus her frustration and anger on."

When Evelinde frowned at this news, he quickly added, "Ne'er fear though. We passed a small traveling party on the way out and stopped to find it was Alexander returning. He'll take Edda in hand."

"My brother is back?" Evelinde asked with a gasp of both happiness and relief. She'd begun to fear he'd been badly injured or killed in Tunis. But he had not, and he was home. It was almost as great a gift as having Mildrede and Mac returned to her, she thought, and turned excitedly to her husband as he took her arm to draw her away from Mac's embrace. "Can we visit him? I have not seen my brother in three years."

"Not right now," Cullen answered. "Later in the year, mayhap. But ye can invite him to visit us do ye wish."

She nodded, excited at the prospect, then gestured to Mildrede and Mac, and asked, "Are they here for good?"

Cullen nodded.

"Mildrede can stay?" she asked, needing clarification.

"She's yer maid," he said simply.

"And Mac?"

"Ye said he was yer friend." Cullen shrugged. "He's a Scot, and Scatchy is getting old, he'll need someone to take his place and direct his daughter in the stables."

Evelinde stilled at these words. She'd known Scatchy worked in the stables, one of the few men who seemed actually to do anything other than practice at sword play, but hadn't realized the man's daughter worked there as well. Not that it mattered much to her at that point. She was more concerned with what her husband had done for her.

"You sent for them because you knew I missed them?" she asked, tears welling in her eyes as she realized he had actually listened to her after all.


Evelinde glanced around at that word to see a tall, very handsome, fair-haired man moving toward them. She recognized him at once as one of the men who had arrived at d'Aumesbery with her husband, but who had remained behind when they'd left. She had no idea who he was, though.

"Tavis," he introduced himself, apparently reading the confusion on her face. "I'm Cullen's cousin. Yers, too, now that yer wed."

"Oh," Evelinde managed a smile and nodded. "Hello, cousin Tavis."

Tavis's smile widened at her prim greeting, eyes twinkling, then he turned to gesture to the men who had followed and introduced them, "Gillie, Rory, and Jasper."

Evelinde nodded to each of the grinning men in turn, then shifted her attention back to Tavis as he explained, "Cullen ordered your things brought ere leaving d'Aumesbery. While the three of ye left, he ordered us to stay behind long enough for a wagon to be packed with yer belongings and follow."

"Aye, me lady," a short, freckled, strawberry blond Tavis had introduced as Gillie said. "We got here as quick as we could but had to travel more slowly because of the wagon."

Evelinde stared at the men, slowly understanding that this, then, was where they'd disappeared to.

They'd stayed behind to escort the wagon to Donnachaidh; a wagon with her belongings.

"We brought everything of yours," Mildrede said, drawing her attention again. "Edda tried to stop us at first, but Tavis and the men just told her to stay out of the way. We have your tapestries and—"

The maid stopped speaking because Evelinde had whirled away at that point and was rushing for the doors.

"Oh!" Evelinde gasped as she slammed through the door and paused on the top of the keep stairs to stare down at the overloaded wagon waiting in front. She peered at the familiar items on the wagon with wide eyes, then glanced back when the doors opened behind her. A beaming Mildrede and Mac stepped out first, followed by Cullen and the four men who had escorted the wagon.

"You brought my chairs from my room," she said with amazement, turning back and running lightly down the stairs to the wagon.

"Aye. Mildrede wanted to bring yer bed, too, but it wouldna fit," Tavis informed her with amusement, leading the other men down the stairs to follow Mildrede and Mac to the wagon as Evelinde moved around it, touching familiar items as she passed.

It was like having a little bit of home with her. Each item held memories, both good and bad. The good memories were of her parents, the bad were of Edda. Evelinde decided she would only remember the good and forget the bad. She had enough problems at present without troubling about the past. The past was done. Edda could not hurt or humiliate her anymore, so carrying those memories with her would only be her hurting herself in Edda's stead.

"My tapestries," she murmured, caressing the end of one of the rolls, then her gaze moved on. "The cushions Mother and I embroidered!"

"And all your clothes, and even the embroidered linens your mother put aside for you," Mildrede said with a grin, then sobered somewhat as she added, "And your parents' portraits."

Evelinde felt tears well in her eyes and quickly dashed them away as she turned to offer her husband a small smile.

"Thank you," she murmured with heartfelt gratitude.

He grunted.

Evelinde frowned, her gaze sweeping back to the wagon. She shook her head as she recalled how upset she'd been when she thought she'd never see these things again. In truth, though, she would have given them all up to have Mildrede and Mac with her, but it seemed she'd lost neither her dear maid and friend nor her things. All her upset and depression had been for naught.

"Why did you not tell me they were coming?" Evelinde asked with bewilderment. Had he done so the last few days would not have been so dark and gloomy for her. She would have been able to enjoy the anticipation of their arrival as a much-needed bright spot in her day.

Cullen shrugged. "Ye assumed I would no see yer things brought, so I left ye to believe what ye wished."

"What I wished?" Evelinde asked with disbelief, anger stirring in her. "You think I wished to don your dead wife's gown and make a complete cake of myself in front of our neighbors because I thought I had naught but the clothes I rode here in? You think I wished to weep at night because I thought everyone I loved was lost to me? You think I wished I thought I had lost every tie and reminder of my family?"

"Weep?" he asked, zeroing on the word with a frown. "When did you weep?"

"While you slept," Evelinde snapped, feeling embarrassment color her cheeks as she admitted it. She wasn't the only one embarrassed. His men and Mac were all exchanging panicked glances and looking terribly uncomfortable, though Mildrede was looking upset on her behalf rather than embarrassed. Evelinde wasn't surprised when the woman moved to stand behind her in her usual show of support.

"Hmm," Mac muttered suddenly. "Well, guess we should start unloading this wagon." Grabbing Mildrede by the arm, he dragged her to the wagon. Evelinde heard Mildrede hiss at him to let her alone, but he muttered back that she was best not to get between Evelinde and Cullen, then shoved a cushion at her and grabbed a chair himself before directing her toward the stairs. The rest of the men were snatching up items left and right and hurrying after the pair, fleeing the field of battle, Evelinde realized.

"Well, there was no need for crying," Cullen said with a scowl, as the last of the group disappeared into the keep. "If ye had just trusted me to tend to matters as it is my place to do, ye'd have realized I'd see to yer wellbeing. And," he added with a frown, "ye've no lost all ties to yer family. I am yer family now."

"Family? You?" she asked with amazement. "Nay, my lord. You are a complete stranger to me. And why should I trust a stranger to do what is best for me when my own stepmother—who was not a stranger—would not?"

"I am no a stranger," Cullen said impatiently. "I'm yer husband."

"You may be my husband, my lord, but a couple of head flops in front of a priest does not change the fact that you are a stranger," Evelinde said grimly, then pointed out, "I know nothing about you. While I have told you everything I can think of about myself, you have shared nothing in return. I know Scatchy better than I know you, and all I know about him is that he likes pasties. I have no idea what you like or dislike, except perhaps that you do not like me."

Cullen stilled in surprise, then looked irritated. "What the devil would make ye think I doona like you?"

"Oh, I do not know," she snapped, as a now-empty-handed Mac started back out of the keep followed by the other men. "Perhaps because you have not touched me or more than grunted at me since consummating our marriage."

The men on the stairs stopped abruptly and turned to head back into the keep without Cullen ever seeing them, Evelinde noted, as her husband's mouth opened and closed twice without issuing a word.

Finally, he glared and snapped, "I was being considerate."

"Considerate?" she asked with disbelief.

"Aye. I didna wish to pain yer bruises. I thought to let them heal more ere bothering you again."

Evelinde was too upset at this point to appreciate the thoughtfulness of the gesture. If it was true, she thought furiously and bit out, "Well, it would have been nice if you had said as much to me, my lord, rather than leave me thinking I was so poor at the duty you wished not to have to attend it again."

Cullen's eyes widened in shock, then he grabbed her by the arm and turned to drag her into the keep.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked with irritation, trying to jerk her arm free as he dragged her across the great hall toward the stairs.

"To show ye I like ye," he snarled.

Evelinde immediately dug in her heels, bringing them to a halt by the trestle tables.

"Have you not listened to a word I have said?" she asked incredulously. "I do not wish to be shown, I want to be told, my lord."

Cullen turned back to face her as the men, who had apparently settled themselves at the table to avoid being unwilling witnesses to the fight while it was outside, quickly scrambled to escape the great hall, rushing back out the doors they'd just come in.

"Wife," he said, his expression exasperated. "Ye never judge a man by his words, but by his actions. A man, and a woman,"—he added firmly—"can lie to ye with their lips, but their actions will tell the truth."

"That may be true of most people, husband. But I am not most people, I am your wife, and I need both the actions and the words," she said firmly.

Cullen stared at her as if she were some exotic creature he'd never seen before, then threw up his hands with exasperation and marched past her and out of the keep.

Evelinde stared at the closed door for several minutes, her mind in an uproar. She wasn't sorry she'd said what she had. For heaven's sake, she hadn't even known Biddy was his aunt until the woman had told her so herself!

Still, she wasn't sure she'd accomplished much either. What Cullen said was partly true. Were she to judge him by his actions, her husband was proving to be a considerate, caring man. He had done everything she would have wished him to do and without her ever having had the opportunity to ask him to do it… Everything except ease her mind by telling her what he was doing.

Evelinde supposed that was better than a man who made proclamations of caring, or promised her the world but did not trouble himself to do anything. And it was certainly better than a husband who drank too much and beat her. Releasing a little sigh, she rubbed her forehead where an ache was beginning to grow and acknowledged that things could indeed be worse. She did much prefer a quiet but thoughtful husband to a lying, abusive husband.

Perhaps she would just have to learn to deal with Cullen's telling her nothing, Evelinde thought on a sigh.

At least she had Mac and Mildrede again, she reminded herself, as the door opened, and Mac, the man who had listened to her woes and worries since she was old enough to sit a saddle, entered with a small chest in hand. He was followed by the other men, each of them carrying an item from the wagon.

Mac paused beside her, waited for the others to pass by and start up the stairs, then said, "Lady's been stuck walking behind the wagon for four days and may like a ride. She's no had a proper ride since ye left."

"Lady is here, too?" Evelinde asked, cheering.

"Aye. She was taken to the stables."

Evelinde immediately started past him, pausing to glance back when he spoke her name softly.

"Doona be too hard on the man, lass. Talking is harder for men than 'tis for women."

Evelinde frowned at his words, and pointed out, "You talk to me all the time."

"Aye." He smiled faintly. "But I'm an old man. I've learned the value of talking. Cullen's younger, though, and proud." He shrugged and shook his head. "Empty vessels make the most sound, lass, and he's no empty."

"No, he is not," she agreed quietly.

Apparently satisfied that he'd done what he could, Mac turned away with his burden. "Go on and see yer Lady. She's been pining for ye."

Smiling faintly, Evelinde turned and continued out of the keep. Her smile widened at the prospect of seeing her mare as she crossed the bailey.

She was barely halfway to the stables when she saw Cullen come charging out of the building on his mount. He immediately headed out of the bailey, urging his mount to a run as soon as he'd passed under the gate.

Evelinde wondered briefly where he was going but then pushed the worry away and hurried on to the stables. If Lady did not seem tired, she would take her for a ride. Just a short one since she didn't know the area, but even a short, fast ride would help soothe her.

"My men saw ye from the wall about half an hour ago. So, I saddled up to meet ye," Tralin greeted as he reigned in before Cullen's mount on the edge of the woods surrounding the hill Comyn castle sat on.

Cullen grunted. He would have done the same the other day had Tralin and his parents not already nearly been to the castle by the time his man had alerted him that a party approached. Cullen suspected the men on the wall had been too distracted watching him trying to break the new horse to notice the approaching riders. Or perhaps they'd been watching his wife trying to get herself killed charging across Angus's paddock, he thought with an irritation that soon faded as he recalled she'd been rushing across the paddock because she'd feared he'd done himself an injury tumbling from the horse.

His wife was like to drive him crazy at this rate, Cullen decided with exasperation. One minute he was scared witless, the next furious at her for risking herself so, and the next he was touched that she'd feared for his well-being. Truly, marriage was turning out to be like a ride on a boat in rough weather; up and then down and then up and then down again. Someone should have warned him that marriage could make a man seasick.

"So? To what do I owe this your presence? Or need I ask?"

Cullen's eyes narrowed. "What do ye mean by that?"

Tralin shrugged, then arched his eyebrows. "Do I dare ask how married life is treating ye?"

"Nosy beggar," Cullen muttered.

Tralin burst out laughing at the insult, and asked, "Trouble in paradise?"

When Cullen merely sighed unhappily, he reached out to slap him on the back encouragingly and turned his mount back toward Comyn castle. "Come, friend, I suspect ye could use an ale, and I would enjoy one, too."

Cullen hesitated. He shouldn't really be there. It was nearly an hour's ride to Comyn and would be the same back, and he had much to do, but he'd needed to ride off his frustration and confusion and had somehow ended here. Now that he was at Comyn, he might as well have a drink before he returned Cullen reasoned and urged his mount forward with a nod.

"So," Tralin said, once they were settled at the trestle table in the Comyn great hall. "How is the fair Evelinde?"

Cullen smiled reluctantly and admitted, "She is fair."

"Aye," Tralin agreed, watching his face with interest. "Even in the overlarge gown and with her hair looking as if she'd come straight from her bed, she was fair, but she was fairer still when she came down after changing and fixing her hair."

Cullen nodded, a smile curving his lips as he thought what Tralin said was true, but his wife looked most beautiful when she was naked, her bright blue eyes darkening with the passion he stirred in her.

"She seemed to have a personality to match," Tralin added, when Cullen remained silent. "So I can only assume whatever trouble it is has brought ye here is yer fault."

The image of his naked wife shattering, Cullen straightened abruptly and turned an offended gaze his way. "What?"

"Well…" Tralin shrugged. "I doona see her being stubborn and proud. You, on the other, hand are both."

Cullen grimaced at the truth of those words and sighed. "I didna plan to come here, but now that I am…" He shrugged, and said, "You are better with women than I. At least they seem to like to talk to ye."

"That's because I actually talk back," Tralin said dryly, then asked, "What happened?"

"I found out she's been crying herself to sleep," Cullen admitted unhappily.

Tralin's eyebrows rose. "Why?"

"She did not realize I had brought her clothes," he admitted. "The woman seemed to think I brought her to Donnachaidh with naught but the gown on her back."

Tralin shrugged. "How could she know otherwise? Did ye tell her ye had?"

"Nay, but she should ha'e kenned that I'd no bring her here without her belongings."

"How could she know that?" he asked with amusement. "She doesna ken ye, Cullen. And ye must admit, you are no the most forthcoming of men."

Cullen frowned at the very suggestion that he might carry some of the blame for her thinking so poorly of him but knew it was true. The man was only echoing her complaint.

"Have the two of ye talked at all since the marriage?"

"She talks," Cullen admitted with a smile tugging at his lips as he thought of the way Evelinde had chattered away to him the last several days. She'd told him tales of her youth, her adventures, her friendship with Mac and affection for Mildrede, as well as revealed the clever ways she'd managed to avoid her stepmother as often as possible.

"She talks, huh?" Tralin said, watching his smile. "And what do you do?"

"I listen," Cullen answered, and he did. He'd found himself enthralled, listening to her voice. Evelinde was a fair storyteller, and he'd been able to picture much of what she'd said in his head as she spoke.

"Hmm." Tralin sipped at his ale, and asked, "Do ye like her so far?"

Cullen considered the question and nodded slowly. "Aye. She's clever and sweet and… wishes herself back at d'Aumesbery with that perfectly hateful stepmother of hers rather than at Donnachaidh with me," he ended with disgust.

Tralin choked on the ale he'd been in the process of swallowing, and Cullen thumped him a couple of times on the back, understanding the reaction. That admission had horrified him, too. It was hard to accept that she was so unhappy with him that she would rather be back there being insulted and abused by Edda.

"Why?" Tralin got out finally. "From what you said the other day, the woman treated her horribly."

Cullen nodded glumly. He'd told Tralin and his parents about the stepmother while Evelinde was upstairs changing the day they'd visited. He'd described Edda's behavior toward her stepdaughter with a few succinct words that had made it clear she had been badly treated by the woman.

He, on the other hand, never insulted or abused her, Cullen thought. In fact, he'd done everything he could to try to make things easier; leaving right after the wedding to get her away from Edda rather than staying to rest a night after the long trip to d'Aumesbery, choosing and packing gowns and such in that small bag for her when she was unable to do it herself, cutting himself to fake the consummation rather than subject her to the humiliation Edda had insisted on, carrying her before him on his mount the whole way so that her injuries were exacerbated as little as possible…

"Are ye rough with her in bed?" Tralin asked suddenly, and when Cullen turned a shocked and furious gaze on him, added quickly, "I am just trying to sort out why she would wish she was back at d'Aumesbery. I ken ye would not insult or abuse her like her stepmother—"

"I called her daft," Cullen admitted, then explained about the bull and her being in the paddock.

"Well, I think that can be forgiven," Tralin said with a frown, then cleared his throat and returned to the bone he'd dug up a moment ago. "I know you would not abuse a woman, but I was just wondering if—I mean, yer no used to dealing with virgins, Cullen, and mayhap you were a little less gentle than you might have been, or she was shocked by what… er… takes place."

"I have been avoiding bedding her to allow her body to heal," he admitted unhappily.

Tralin's eyebrows shot up. "You mean the wedding has not been consummated?"

"Aye, it has," Cullen assured him and frowned. He'd intended to wait until her body had healed completely and she would not wince in pain when he caressed her. Howbeit, the morning after arriving home, he'd spilled ale on himself and headed up to the room to change his tunic and Biddy had stopped him and asked if he'd take her salve up to Evelinde and tell her she'd be along shortly. He'd agreed, fully intending just to give her the salve, but then he'd walked in and found her laid out naked on the bed on her stomach and all his best intentions had gone out the window.

The next thing he knew his hands were slick with salve, and he was applying it himself, and once he'd touched her Cullen had been lost. So much so that he couldn't even say if Biddy had ever come up intending to apply the salve. If she had, neither of them had noticed, and she'd slipped away without disturbing them, and he was grateful for it.

Tralin cleared his throat to get his attention, and asked delicately, "And how did it go?"

"It went… well," Cullen muttered, knowing he lied through his teeth. It had been incredible. He was no virgin, but bedding his wife had been one of the most exciting experiences of his life. Cullen had never before felt a passion like she'd drawn from him, or the desire to please a woman as much as he'd wanted to please Evelinde. His passion was so all-consuming it had been a struggle to remain gentle and a constant battle to avoid touching any of her sore spots. Reining in the passion she'd stirred so had been a sort of torture… a sweet torture. And one he'd wanted to repeat immediately on awaking, too. But, afraid he wouldn't be able to go gently next time, Cullen had forced himself to resist, reminding himself that she needed to heal.

"It went well for you," Tralin said. "But what of her? Perhaps—"

"It went well for her, too," Cullen interrupted dryly. "It went verra well for both of us. Howbeit, she seems to have mistaken my consideration in not wanting to trouble her again until she is fully healed as an indication that she did not please me."

"Hmm," Tralin murmured.

"And she wants me to explain things to her," Cullen complained. "I told her to watch me actions and no bother so much about the words, but she insists she wants me words and actions."

"Demanding wench."

Cullen nodded, only realizing that his friend had been teasing him when Tralin started to laugh.

"Cullen," he said with exasperation. "I ken yer no used to explaining yerself. Yer laird over the people of Donnachaidh and as such need not explain anything to anyone, but she is not just another one of yer people. She's yer wife, and the two of ye are just getting to ken each other. Ye'll need to explain some things at first."

When Cullen just glowered at him, he added, "Look at it from her perspective. Ye showed up, married her, and dragged her off right away, and she thought with naught but the gown she wore. Ye then bedded her once, and no doubt left her to her own devices after that, without a word of praise to let her know that ye were pleased with her, or—knowing you—any sort of direction as to her place at Donnachaidh. She is no doubt feeling lost and uncertain in her new home and position."

"But I have done all I possibly can to ease the way for her," Cullen protested.

"Except tell her ye're pleased with her for bride," he pointed out. "And praise is no doubt what she needs after being insulted by her stepmother all these years."


"Look at it as just another one of yer duties," Tralin interrupted. "Ye take yer duties seriously, I ken. So, think of this as one. Yer duty is to ensure yer wife kens she is appreciated and necessary at Donnachaidh."

"A duty," he muttered.

"Aye." Tralin nodded. "I promise ye if ye do, she—and hence, ye—will be much happier."

Cullen considered the suggestion seriously, then nodded and stood.

"Where are ye going?" Tralin asked with surprise.

"Home to attend me duties," he muttered, heading for the door.

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