Excerpt: At a nod from the priest, Riona stepped forward, and Eaden placed her hand in Ranald’s. She glanced at him from beneath lowered lashes, her heart racing wildly.
“Lady Caitriona, do ye come here of yer own free will and accord, without let or hindrance, free of all moral and legal encumbrance, to enter into this contract?”
Riona inhaled a deep breath. “Aye.”
The priest’s voice droned on, and she and Ranald murmured the correct responses, pledging their troth.
“Laird Scott, will ye have Gilda as yer daughter, to act as father and counsel, granting her all the attendant rights, privileges and responsibilities?”
Riona’s gaze flew to Ranald. This was not part of any wedding ceremony she’d ever attended. What was Ranald promising?
He squeezed her hand reassuringly and motioned for Gilda to approach. Placing his palm on the child’s shining head, he faced Riona, his gaze compelling her to listen to his words.
“Aye. I will offer all this in love and custom, giving her place in law alongside such other children as may arise from this union.”
Riona barely heard the challenge from the priest for any to speak who had just cause to oppose the marriage. Nor could she stop the tears spilling down her cheeks as she strove to breathe past the lump in her throat. Before their wedding guests and God, Ranald had pledged to give her daughter all the benefits of his own children, and to love and provide for her always.
Ranald leaned close, brushing the back of a hand over her damp cheek. “Dearling, will ye say yer vows?”
Abruptly Riona realized the priest was staring expectantly at her and she gathered her scattered thoughts. She handed her bouquet of heather to Gilda and faced Ranald, taking both of his hands in hers.
“Ye are blood of my blood, and bone of my bone.” She lifted her gaze and found dark blue eyes burning into hers. “I give ye my body, that we two might be one. I give ye my spirit, ‘til our life shall be done.”
* * *
Ranald knew he had surprised Riona. By taking Gilda as his daughter, he pledged to his new wife the lass would never want for a home or honor. He meant also to prove they both would never lack for love. The trusting, earnest look in her eyes as she gave him her vows humbled him, and he answered her with a promise of his own.
“I pledge my love to ye, and everything I possess. I promise ye the first bite of my meat and the first sip from my cup. I pledge yer name will always be the name I cry aloud in the dead of night. I promise to honor ye above all others. The love we forge will be never-ending and we will remain, forevermore, equals in our marriage. This is my wedding vow to ye.”
The priest nodded and continued the ceremony as Ranald faced Riona, Gilda tucked between them. The lass rested against her mother’s gown, swinging her basket from one hand, back and forth, watching as petals drifted to the floor.
“Ye may kiss yer bride.”
“‘Tis the best part,” he replied softly, drawing an answering smile from her that lit her eyes. He lowered his head and touched his lips to hers. Riona leaned into his kiss, and his heart skipped to know she willingly sought him before the enormous crowd around them.
A subtle cough from the priest ended their pledge, and they parted, only to turn, cheek-to-cheek, to face the cheers of their guests.
Ranald straightened, pulling Riona against his side, a hand on Gilda’s shoulder. “‘Tis my privilege and honor to introduce ye to my wife and daughter. Together we invite ye to have a drink,” Ranald stared pointedly at a guest near the forefront of the crowd who already held a chalice in his hand, “as the tables are set for the banquet.”
Another cheer went up and people surged forward, congratulating them with hugs or kisses for Riona and a clout to the shoulder for Ranald.
The banquet was quickly readied and everyone found a seat. At Ranald’s left Eaden stood, raising his goblet in a bid for silence. Gradually the jovial noise subsided.
“I would be the first to make a toast. My brother has always been a lucky man, but he has outdone himself this time.”
He faced Ranald and Riona. “A thousand welcomes to ye with yer marriage. May ye be healthy all yer days. May ye be blessed with long life and peace, and may ye grow old with goodness and with riches.”
“Slainte!” The cheer rose from every throat as Ranald lifted Riona’s hand and pressed a kiss to her fingers.
Blurb: Determined to keep the Macrory clan’s holdings out of the clutches of the Lord of the Isles and marauding pirates, King Robert II sends his man, Lord Ranald Scott, to hold Scaurness Castle. There, Laird Macrory lays dying, awaiting word from his son who is missing on the battlefields of France. If the son is not found before the old laird dies, Ranald will take over as laird—and marry Laird Macrory’s headstrong daughter.
Lady Caitriona sees no reason she cannot rule the clan in her brother’s stead, and is bitterly disappointed with the king’s decision to send a man to oversee the castle and people. Not only is Ranald Scott only distantly related to the Macrory clan, but he was her childhood nemesis. She has little trust or like for him.
Her disappointment turns to panic when the king’s plan is completely revealed and she realizes she must wed Ranald. Pirates, treachery, and a four-year-old girl stand between her and Ranald’s chance at happiness. What will it take for them to learn to trust each other and find the love they both deserve?
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