Devil of the Highlands Chapter Four

"Did ye na tell that maid to hurry? What is taking so long?"

Cullen managed not to grimace at Tavis's complaint. His cousin had never been a patient man, but at that moment he was in full agreement with him. He'd sent the maid up to fetch his bride more than an hour past and Evelinde still had not appeared.

"Ye doona think she doesna wish to marry ye and fled, do ye?" Tavis said fretfully. "Yer reputation as the Devil of Donnachaidh may have scared her off. Maybe we should check the stables and be sure her mare is still here."

Cullen frowned at the suggestion. From what Evelinde had said in the clearing, he already knew his reputation as the Devil of Donnachaidh had preceded him. Still, he didn't think she was afraid of him. In fact, after their tryst in the clearing, he would expect she'd be less afraid of him and even looking forward to the marriage bed. He certainly was.

"Nay," he said finally. "There's no reason for her to run."

"Women don't need a reason," Fergus said dryly from his other side. " 'Sides, I wouldna be so sure. She could be mad. She certainly didna seem all that right in the head, riding about the meadow waving a flag as she was."

" 'Twas her gown," Cullen snapped.

"What the devil was she doing waving it around as she was?" Fergus muttered.

"It looked wet to me," Tavis said, when Cullen didn't trouble himself to explain. "She was probably trying to dry it."

A round of relieved murmurs sounded from the other men. Cullen knew they'd feared their new lady would be mad since discovering she was the lass from the meadow.

"How did she get herself all bruised?" Gillie asked suddenly.

"No doubt she took a spill from her mount," Fergus surmised when Cullen remained silent. "That's what happens when ye act foolish and doona ride proper. Hopefully, the lass has learned her lesson."

Cullen didn't comment. His gaze had moved to the top of the stairs in hopes of seeing his betrothed appear, but the stair head was still empty.

"I am glad we are na staying here tonight," Gillie commented, drawing his attention again. "Her stepmother is a horrible woman."

"Aye," Tavis muttered, and Cullen noted his gaze shifting along the table to where Edda d'Aumesbery was talking with Father Saunders. His cousin shook his head with incomprehension, and added, "I doona understand the woman at all. From what she said while we awaited yer return, she obviously believes all those tales about the Devil of Donnachaidh."

"Aye," Gillie muttered. "And yet she doesna seem the least afeared of ye."

"Nay, she's too pleased at the prospect of her stepdaughter marrying our laird and being miserable," Fergus commented with disgust. "She sees our laird as an ally because of it and hasna the sense to be afraid."

Tavis blew out a silent whistle at the suggestion, then nudged Cullen. "If that's the case, I suspect the woman has made the lass's life miserable as can be until now."

"Aye," Cullen grunted, his gaze shifting to the Englishwoman. She was a vile creature. It hadn't taken him more than a glimpse of Edda's obvious pleasure at Evelinde's state when they returned to the keep to realize getting the lass away from here as quickly as possible was the best thing he could do for her. His opinion hadn't changed in the time he'd waited below. Edda had spent the interval spewing out insult after insult about her absent stepdaughter and telling him what a trial the girl had been to her.

The woman kept insisting Cullen would have to beat her into shape. She seemed to think he should take a stick to Evelinde morning, noon, and night to ensure good behavior… but the more she talked, the more he felt like taking a stick to Edda. Cullen didn't think the woman had dared to raise a hand to Evelinde herself, but he had no doubt that Tavis was right, and the bitch had made Evelinde's life here as miserable as she could since Lord d'Aumesbery's death. It had been a relief when Father Saunders arrived, and they'd been able to break away from the nasty cow and move farther along the table to confer. It had saved him from strangling his betrothed's stepmother… probably not the best memory for Evelinde to have of their wedding day.

Cullen's gaze slid back to the top of the stairs again, and he wondered where his bride was. He was eager to get her out of this cursed castle.

"Well," Edda d'Aumesbery suddenly stood. "Evelinde is obviously taking her time. I shall have to go chivvy her along, else we shall, no doubt, be left here awaiting her pleasure all afternoon." She turned a gaze full of happy anticipation to Cullen. "I do hope you can take the girl in hand and teach her to be more prompt and obedient. I fear her father spoiled her horribly, and she needs a strong hand."

Cullen ground his teeth but simply stood, and announced, "I shall go up."

The catlike smile that immediately claimed the woman's face rubbed his nerves raw. He had no doubt she was anticipating his taking his fists to the lass for her dallying. Cullen had never raised a hand to a woman in his life. He'd have liked to at the moment, however. He wanted to slap that smug smile off Edda's face. Mouth tightening, he strode to the stairs and bounded up. He could not get out of this castle quick enough.

Cullen reached the top of the stairs just as a maid slid out of one of the doors and hurried up the hall toward him. Her steps slowed, and her eyes grew wide with alarm when she spotted him.

"Where is Evelinde's room?" he growled, impatient with her fear. Truly, a little caution around strangers was healthy, but the servant's open terror was insulting. Still, he supposed he brought it on himself by letting everyone think the worst.

When the girl turned and gestured silently back to the room she'd just left, Cullen nodded and moved swiftly to it. He didn't knock. He pushed open the door, stepped in, and opened his mouth to demand to know what was taking so long, only to have his jaw sag. There were two women in the room with his bride—her lady's maid and another younger maid. Neither had noted his arrival. They were too busy dragging a naked Evelinde across the floor with her arms pulled over their shoulders. She hung limp between them, head sagging forward and legs—apparently unable to hold her weight—dragging behind.

Cullen slammed the door closed to get their attention, and the women paused at once and peered his way. All except his bride, who simply continued to sag between them.

"What the hell is wrong with her?" he snapped, crossing the room to the trio. The maids immediately began to back away, dragging Evelinde with them.

The younger woman simply shook her head frantically in response to his question. It was the older one, the one he believed was Evelinde's maid, who explained, "I told Alice to put some tonic in Evelinde's mead. It was to help soothe her sore muscles."

"Oh, aye, her muscles are soothed," Cullen snapped, lifting Evelinde's head to see she was conscious, but dazed and seemed incapable of holding up her own head. He gently eased her head back to rest against her chest again and glowered at the maid. "If I'm ever ill, doona even think to treat me."

"Alice gave her the wrong medicinal," Mildrede snapped. "And too much."

Cullen just pursed his lips doubtfully, his gaze sliding back to his bride. "How long will it take to pass?"

Mildrede hesitated, considering the matter, then shook her head, and admitted, "I am not sure. A while."

"But it'll na harm her?" he asked.

Mildrede shook her head.

"Can she speak?"

"Aye." The word was little more than a slur from his bride's bent head.

Cullen nodded, then scooped Evelinde away into his arms. "Then we can be wed."

"Just a minute!" Mildrede squawked, as he turned to head to the door. "You can not take her like that. She is naked!"

Cullen paused to look down at the woman in his arms. He'd been so upset and worried by her state he'd quite managed to forget she was naked. He had to wonder how that was possible as he peered at her now, his gaze traveling over her breasts, down her stomach to the golden thatch of hair nestled at the apex of her thighs, and finally over her shapely legs.

"Come, set her on the bed, and we will dress her," Mildrede said.

Cullen scowled at the peremptory order, but laid Evelinde on the bed. He looked down at his bride as Mildrede sent the younger maid to fetch a chemise and gown.

"She took a bad tumble. Those are some nasty bruises she's carrying," the maid said with a sad shake of the head.

"Aye," Cullen agreed, his eyes traveling over lovely, milky white skin, interrupted by several black bruises. "She looks like a cow."

Mildrede turned a horrified gaze on him at the comment, but he was more concerned by the choked sound that came from his bride. He really hadn't meant it as an insult, but it seemed the women were taking it so.

"I just meant the coloring," Cullen muttered, wondering why he was bothering to explain himself.

Mildrede shook her head and turned to take the shift from the younger maid when she rushed back with it. She immediately began to try to put it on the lass, but Evelinde was unable to help at all, and it was obvious it was not an easy job. The two women had to hold her in a sitting position, raise her arms, and maneuver the chemise onto her at the same time. Even with the younger maid trying to help, Mildrede was struggling with the task.

An irritated sound slipping from his lips, Cullen moved around the bed to help. He was holding her upright with her hands in the air for Mildrede to work the chemise onto her when a knock sounded. The younger maid was just hovering nervously by the side of the bed, so she was the one who went to answer it.

"This will teach me to trust anyone else to mess with my medicinals," the maid muttered as she finished getting the chemise over one hand and turned her attention to the other.

Cullen's only response was a grunt as he shifted his hand about, first down the arm, then back up as Mildrede worked that hand through the sleeve.

"God's teeth! With all that bruising on her lily-white skin she looks like a cow," Tavis said, appearing at his side.

"That's what I said," Cullen agreed, feeling vindicated. He wasn't at all surprised his cousin had managed to talk his way around the maid. However, when Evelinde made a groaning sound, her head flopping against her chest with distress, it suddenly occurred to him that his cousin was staring at his betrothed's lily-white skin, mottled or not. It mattered little that in the normal course of events, Tavis, as well as all the rest of the men, would have got an eyeful during the bedding ceremony. This was not the bedding ceremony, and there probably wouldn't be one. There was absolutely nothing normal about this wedding so far.

"Turn around," he snapped. "What are ye doing here anyway?"

A grin tugging at his lips, Tavis did as ordered, and explained, "Ye've taken so long, Edda was threatening to come up and check on ye, so. I said I'd come." He glanced back toward the bed, and asked, "What's the matter with her?"

"They drugged her," Cullen said dryly.

"It was an accident," Mildrede protested. "Alice got my tonics mixed up."

Tavis raised his eyebrows, but simply asked, "Can the wedding go ahead?"

"Aye," Cullen said firmly. "We just need to get her dressed."

Tavis nodded. "Diya need me help?"

Cullen hesitated, then shook his head. "Nay. Jest guard the door and keep that bitch stepmother of hers out of here."


The moment he moved away, Cullen turned his full attention to getting Evelinde dressed. Mildrede now had the shift on her arms and over her head and was tugging it down over her upper torso.

"Can you lift her up?" the .maid asked.

Cullen lifted Evelinde by her hands so her bottom was off the bed, and the maid quickly tugged the chemise down to cover her.

They were working to get the gown on her when the next knock came. Cullen glanced back to see Tavis positioned beside the door, inside the room. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, watching the whole process, but straightened and turned to answer the knock.

Cullen spotted Fergus on the other side when it opened and shook his head with disgust as he turned back to what he was doing. Edda was obviously eager to find out what was happening. At this rate, every one of his men would be in the room ere they got Evelinde dressed.

"Nay. You will consummate the marriage now. I will not have you take Evelinde from here, change your mind, and return her to have the marriage annulled later. This marriage will not be undone," Edda insisted firmly.

If Evelinde's head were not already hanging down, it would be now at the insinuation that Cullen would soon find her lacking. Her wedding day was turning out to be one of the most humiliating of her life to date. She was battered, bruised, apparently resembled a cow, and completely incapable of supporting herself.

Once they'd dressed her, Cullen had been forced to carry her below, then hold her upright by pressing her to his side with one arm around her waist and his other hand holding her head up so she could see the priest. When she'd had to say her vows, they'd come out as little more than a grunt because her mouth wouldn't move properly. The priest had been upset and reluctant to accept it as a vow, and Cullen had begun to lose patience with the man. Fortunately, Mildrede had saved the holy man by pointing out that Evelinde could nod. When the priest had looked at her, Evelinde had done so, though it was more like a flop than a nod. She had very little control over her muscles.

And so she had nodded rather than spoken her vows. She'd been terribly relieved to have it over and done with until Cullen had announced it was time to leave, and Edda had spoken up with her insistence they consummate before they leave. The woman was mad, of course; there was no way they could consummate it as she was.

Apparently, Cullen felt the same way, and snarled, "How are we to consummate it? The woman can not even move."

Edda didn't seem to see this as a problem. Unconcerned about pricking Cullen's temper—probably because his hands were hampered holding Evelinde upright—she said with amusement, "While I have been widowed two years, I do recall enough to know she need not move for it to be consummated. You need not even do more than lift her skirt to accomplish it if you do not wish."

"Lady d'Aumesbery!"

Evelinde recognized Father Saunders's shocked voice, but was more concerned by the way her husband had suddenly gone stiff against her. She suspected he was very angry, and his expression must have said so, because Edda sounded defensive as she added, " 'Tis not as if she will feel it, and I am merely pointing out that if he is in such a rush, he can accomplish the deed quickly."

Evelinde heard the low growl that rumbled in the chest next to her ear and felt the anger in the increased pressure on her side where his fingers held her. She suspected that in his fury the man was bruising her without meaning to, but only felt a very slight increase of pressure, not pain thanks to the tonic, and supposed one more bruise would not matter.

"What will it be, my lord?" Edda asked determinedly. "Do you consummate now or wait for her to recover enough and leave a day or so later?"

Cullen's answer was to shift Evelinde away from his chest to sweep her up into his arms and head for the stairs.

Evelinde supposed she should be horrified at the idea of what was to come, but she really wasn't all that sure what was coming. Everything had happened so quickly, Mildrede hadn't had the chance to tell her what to expect from her wedding night, and there had been no need ere this. Even if she had known what was coming, she didn't think she'd be afraid. The man had been nothing but gentle in his dealings with her until now, and she wasn't afraid of him. Evelinde was just rather resigned. She should have been prepared for Edda to make this as humiliating and uncomfortable as possible.

She would just have to lift her head and bear it one more time, Evelinde supposed. Not literally, of course; she simply wasn't physically capable of raising her head at the moment.

Cullen carried her above stairs and along the hall to her bedchamber, muttering under his breath the whole way. Clearly she was not the only one who found Edda trying.

He paused at her door, reached out with the hand under her legs to open it, then whirled back as Edda huffed her way up behind them.

"The bedding ceremony—"

"I hope, Madame, that ye doona intend to insist on witnessing the consummation," he growled in a warning tone.

Evelinde had no doubt Edda wanted to do exactly that. It would mean more humiliation for her to enjoy.

"I—" the woman began, but Cullen continued speaking.

"Because my temper is frayed, and I'd hate to hit a woman on me wedding day," he growled.

Evelinde really wished she could see her stepmother's face at that point. She was positive she heard her swallow thickly, and her voice certainly sounded shaken as she said, "Nay, of course not, my lord."

Cullen waited, and Evelinde could see the skirt of the woman's dress backing away. When it was out of sight, he turned to the men who had apparently followed Edda, and said, "Prepare the horses, we will be below in a trice."

A trice? Evelinde thought with dismay. He wasn't really going to just lift her skirt and…?

Cullen turned away and entered her chamber, then apparently kicked the door shut with his foot, because she heard it slam behind them. He then carried her to the bed. He stood there for a moment and Evelinde wished she could see his expression so she would have some idea of what he was thinking. Then, he turned away and carried her across the room to lay her on the fur in front of the fireplace. Cullen was very gentle about it, even bunching up the end of the fur to act as a cushion beneath her head. His gaze met hers briefly and he nodded, before straightening and walking away.

Evelinde was left wondering what the nod had meant. Was it supposed to have been reassuring? she wondered, following him with her eyes.

Cullen walked back to the bed, grabbed the linens and furs, and tugged them aside. Then he did something that just confused her: He slipped his sgian dubh from his waist, sliced himself on the arm, then rubbed his blood on the bed. He straightened then and moved back to her. Evelinde watched him approach, unsure what he was doing. She didn't worry, however, until he murmured an apology and reached for the hem of her skirt.

Evelinde's eyes widened as he eased her legs apart. She felt a very faint and brief pressure on her leg, and then he was tugging her skirt back into place and shifting to lift her into his arms again.

Cullen carried her back to the bed, set her on it right where the blood was, then paced briefly around the room. Evelinde followed him with her eyes as much as she could, but he suddenly moved to the corner where her open chests were and out of her sight. She heard him rustle about down there, but could see nothing, and eventually the strain of trying to turn her eyes so far began to make them ache, and she had to close them for a moment to ease the strain.

When she felt hands slipping under her body, she opened her eyes again as Cullen scooped her up. He then walked to the door, using the hand under her legs to open it, and shouted for Edda before turning away and moving back to stand by the bed with her in his arms.

" 'Tis done," he lied, as Evelinde heard several pairs of footsteps entering the room.

A moment of silence passed during which she presumed Edda was examining the bloodstain on the bed, then her stepmother said, "I want her examined."

"I have wasted enough time on this foolishness," Cullen snapped. "I'm no waiting for some pasty-faced—"

"I will have her examined," Edda insisted, and turned to the door. "Bet."

Evelinde would have bitten her lip at that point had she been able to. Bet had been her mother's maid and healer alongside her mother, much as Mildrede was for her. She hoped she might preserve Cullen's lie, but couldn't be sure. It would bring horrible punishments down on the old woman were she found out.

Cullen growled under his breath, bringing her eyes back to him as he turned back to lay her on the bed. He did not leave her alone. He stood grim and silent beside the bed. She heard Bet's slow, limping tread enter the room and then Edda and Bet came into her line of vision and approached the bed. Evelinde closed her eyes at that point. She just did not want to be there, though she was aware of it when her legs were pulled open.

A moment passed, then Bet said, " 'Tis done."

"You are sure?" Edda asked. " 'Twas very quick."

"You can see the blood on her thighs for yourself, my lady," Bet said with exasperation and Evelinde opened her eyes and met the wrinkled, old woman's gaze as she tugged her skirt back into place. She hoped the woman could read the gratitude in her eyes and thought she might have when Bet gave her a quick wink before turning away.

Evelinde now knew what Cullen had been doing under her skirt by the fur. He'd been clever enough to know Edda would subject her to all the humiliation she could and insist on her being examined. He must have rubbed some of the blood from his wound on her thighs to help convince Edda.

"Are you quite satisfied?" Cullen snapped.

"Aye. 'Tis well and truly done. You cannot return her." Edda beamed her satisfaction, then glanced down at Evelinde. "Farewell, stepdaughter. May your life be all that I hope for you."

Evelinde knew exactly what the woman hoped for her future and would have snorted at the words were she able. It was Cullen who did so as he picked her up. He then carried her out of the room.

They were down the stairs and out the front doors in a trice. One of his men was beside them the moment the door closed behind them, so Evelinde supposed he'd been waiting. Her husband spoke quickly to him in Gaelic as he carried her to his horse, then she found herself passed over to the man as her husband mounted. She was then passed back up to him once he was in the saddle. Cullen took a moment to arrange her in his lap, and they were off.

It all happened so fast Evelinde was left gasping. Where was Mildrede? And what of her things? Her gowns, the bits of her mother's jewelry her father had told her to hide so Edda would not steal them, the portrait of her mother, which had been hidden in her room ever since Edda's arrival at d'Aumesbery because she'd ordered it removed and destroyed. The portrait of her father that had been hidden there for the same reason after his death…

There were so many things she would not have left behind. However, Mildrede was the most important. And she'd hoped to be able to speak to her husband about possibly bringing Mac with them. He was a Scot and should have fit in at Donnachaidh, and she worried about leaving him behind with Edda. The woman would have to turn her frustration and anger on someone else now that Evelinde was no longer there to abuse, and Mac would be her most likely target.

But she had nothing. Evelinde did not even have a small bag with a change of clothes as far as she knew. She was going forth into her new life with nothing but the clothes on her back, she realized, and felt fear and anxiety claim her.

It was what every girl had to face when she reached marriageable age, and really Evelinde had been fortunate in not having to do so when much younger—as most girls had to. She would have, had fate not intervened. First, her betrothed drowned when he was twelve. Before her father had found a replacement for him, her mother had fallen ill, and his time had been taken up with worry over her. When Margaret d'Aumesbery had passed away, her father had put off finding Evelinde a husband, wishing to keep her close after losing the woman he hadn't known when he'd married but whom he'd soon grown to love. He'd finally begun searching for a husband for Evelinde just before the chest complaint had taken him.

Still, despite being older than most girls were when they started a new life with their husbands far away from everything and everyone they had ever known, Evelinde didn't think it was any easier. Her husband was a complete stranger, and her new home was a distant place she knew nothing about. It was all terribly scary.

Something else for her to lift her head and bear, she supposed. There seemed to be a lot of that in a female's life. Realizing she was making herself weepy and miserable, Evelinde closed her eyes and decided to try to sleep. There was little else she could do at this point.

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