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Authors: St. John, Becca

The handfasting

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Becca St. John


TheHandfasting©2013Martha E Ferris

All rights reserved





Cover Art © 2012 KelliAnn Morgan / Inspire Creative Services


Thisis a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, persons or clans isentirely coincidental.


~Destiny brought them together ~




Twostubborn people, each fighting for their own way.

After The MacBede battle cry, “For Our Maggie!” and the impossiblevictory it spurs, Talorc the Bold, the Laird MacKay vows to marry the lass forthe power of the clan.Maggie MacBede refuses to risk her heart to the sword.Give her a poet, a bard, any man but a fighting man, and she will find hermatch.




Twopassionate people, tangled in a skirmish of love.

Cornered into a Handfasting, a marriage for a year and a day, MaggieMacBede finds herself plunked into the lap of danger and all because of Talorcthe Bold, the Laird MacKay.




Twopowerful people, whose enemies would fight to divide.

Anenemy lurks deep in the belly of the clan sabotaging their Laird. By winninghis bride’s love, Talorc may just lose her life.


~if only for a year and a day ~


Table of Contents



BOLD.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3


TANGLED. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .148


TORN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .285


THE PROTECTOR(excerpt)..429







The Handfasting Series



Part 1





For the generosity and insightfulness ofJudy Kehoe, Sue Weeks and Kathy Long who labored through my first novels.


And to all my family – by birth, bymarriage, by choice – you are the reason I write about Love.











1224 Scottish Highlands


Theycould all be dead

Theirbodies strewn across battlefields, lifeless.

Likeher twin, like Ian.

MaggieMacBede pressed fist to eyes, spun away from her friend and the empty view theyshared. She would not cry. It was Cailleach Bheare, bitter old crone of a northwind, who stirred up the tears. There was naught to fear. Her brothers wouldreturn.


Thenshe would kill them herself.

Sevenbrothers born, six still alive, and all she could feel was the pain of thelosing. Not that her surviving brothers cared. Och, no, not by half. Ian barelyin his grave and off the great hulking oafs go to battle. Not once, not twice,but three times in the six months since Ian's death, they leave her to fret andworry; would they return by foot or bier?  

Caitlinmoved up beside her, slid an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t fuss now.” Shecrooned.

Notfuss? “We’ve been here since daylight, it’s nearly evening now. They should behere. The messenger said so.”

“Theywill be,” Caitlin soothed. “I promise, and the thrill of it will be worth thewait.”

Maggiesnorted, wrapped her plaid close as she turned back to a bleak view of darkheather and a black ribbon of river threading its way through a valley shadowedby ragged hillsides.

Nohint of warriors.

“Maggie,”Caitlin sidled up beside her. “Don’t you think you’d be knowing if they weren’tcoming? Just like with young Ian.”

Maggielooked to the gloomy valley as she searched for an explanation. “Ian wasdifferent. He was my twin. We shared dreams. I never had that with my otherbrothers.”

“Neveronce with the others?” Caitlin frowned. Her husband Alec, one of the men theywatched for, was Maggie’s older brother.

“No.”Maggie raised her hand, shielding against the last streak of sun as she studiedthe horizon.

Caitlinfollowed her gaze. “You knew when Ian wasn’t coming back, Maggie. I was there.You crumbled as if that sword had pierced your own belly. I’ve no doubt youwould do the same for Alec or any of your other brothers.”

“Enough!”Maggie faced her squarely. “Ian and I were the youngest in a family of strongmen. We needed that closeness or the others would have run right over our wants.It’s you, Caitlin, who will know when Alec goes. Not me.”

“Hewon’t go, though.” Caitlin argued.

“Don’tbe foolish.” Maggie snapped. “Alec is a warrior and warriors die.” She slappedat her chest, where her heart should be. “And all you feel is the pain of thelosing. That’s all Caitlin.” She eased away. “Just sorrow, hovering over a pitof numbness.”


Theyboth fell silent as the autumn chill seeped through layers of dress and plaid,through the soles of boots clear into the heart. Finally, Caitlin shookMaggie’s shoulder. “We’ve been here too long for naught,” she said, “Let’s goback to the keep.”

“Aye.No sense waitin’ and freezin’ when the Bold has no care for the kin of his men.”She grumbled, as she brushed at her plaid.

 “NowMaggie, you shouldn’t be talking about the Laird that way.” Caitlin started tosign the cross. Maggie grabbed her hands, stilled them.

“Stopit. He’s not a bloody saint, Caitlin. He was the one who called Ian to hisdeath, for a battle that was not even ours to fight.”

“He’sa great, grand warrior, he is.” Caitlin countered.

Plaidpulled tight over her head, Maggie closed out the cold. “If he’s so mighty andgreat, why does he send messengers to ask our clan to fight? Why can’t he comehimself?”

Asthere was no answer to that, Maggie argued on. “Coward outside of battle,that’s what he is, to send others to call men to death!” Warmth of convictioncoursed through her. “I know his kind, Caitlin.” She shook a finger atCaitlin’s back, raised her voice as the girl headed up the hill. “He’ll be agreat scarred and ugly man who feasts on wee bairnes for breakfast. He’ll onlyhave one eye, the other a grotesque pocket of twisted and puckered flesh fromsome ancient spear wound.

“Lifemeans nothing to a man like that. Not without conflict.” Anger spurred her upthe steep climb. “I would love to give him conflict, I would.”

Surprisedby the lack of reprimand, for no one disparaged the Great, Grand Laird MacKay,Maggie looked up to see Caitlin at the crest of the hill, still as a statue.She turned, face aglow with tears. “They’re here.” She whispered. “They’ve comefrom the other way.”

 “No! Oh goodness, no!” Maggie reached the top, grabbed hold of Caitlin’s arm as shetook in the scene before them.

Below,a train of men and carts crossed under the archway into the courtyard of thekeep. All that commotion and they had been too far to hear it.

 “Iwanted to greet them, and do so properly.” Maggie moaned and set off down thehill, Caitlin running along beside her.

 “They’rehere!" Her throat stung with the cry as she charged for the keep.

Despitetwenty years and strapping body, Margaret MacBede sailed like a child over therough land until she could hear the laughter and voices and shouts of welcomeahead of her.

Caitlin,struggling to keep stride, stopped her at the keep entrance. “Will you look atthat?” She asked, breathing heavily. And Maggie did.

Somany men, not all MacBedes, and a slew of animals. Boisterous hurrahs could beheard from the courtyard, vying with the bawl and bleat of livestock. Wagonspiled with pillaged harvest pushed through the mélange.

Herbrothers returned with more goods than had been stolen from the MacBedes inthree seasons past. Her kin had championed their clan. Thank the skies. Thesehighlanders would eat this winter.

Thereward was to more than their bellies. It had been a long wait since they'dheard the victor's song. Too much stolen from them with no successful recourse.Too many lives sacrificed to no gain.

“Comeon!” She shouted to Caitlin.

Skirtsheld high and out of the way, heedless of others, Maggie hurtled forward, straightinto the huddle of her brothers and leapt, without warning, into the arms ofher brother, Jamie.

“Whathave we here?” Jamie held her straight out from him, as though she weighed nomore than a straw doll. She dangled in midair, her grasp firm on his arms. Nosmall lass, she towered over other women and quite a few of the men folk, butshe thrilled to the knowing she would never outsize her brothers.

Justin time, Maggie tensed, held her body straight and true, arms crossed at herchest, legs twined about her skirts to hold them secure. As she knewhe would, Jamie tossed her in the air, parallel to the ground, tested theweight of her, same as he would test the weight of a caber.

“Ithink I’ve found the biggest faerie in the land,” Jamie mused.

“Biggestfaerie?” Nigel shouted. “Here, toss it here. It looks naught but a mass of hairand plaid to me.”

Maggiegasped at the outrageous slur, as she sailed through the air to be caught yet again.Her childish cry sounded the delight, for she loved the game, loved to fly asthough nothing could pull her to earth.

Nigelcaught her neatly, adding a spin as he tossed her high again. Maggie pulled intighter, lest a flailing limb strike out at her brother.

“Aye,‘tis naught but a mass of rusty red fur and rags.”

Sherethought the striking out business, but there was no time for action. Airborneand twirling, Maggie shut her eyes against the dizziness of it.

“Umph!”It was Douglas this time. “Can’t be our Maggie.” He groaned, “Too heavy for ourlight, little Maggie. Here.” Maggie pulled in, prepared for the toss. “You seeif she’s not too fat!”

Sheshould have hit while she could.

Douglashurled her with an ease that belied his goading. This twirl she landed face tothe skies, eyes wide.

GoodLord!  She’d not landed in the hands of another brother, and well she knew it. Nay,these hands were even greater in size. They nearly spanned her waist and it wasno small waist. But it was not the size that felt so different. It was . . . ohgoodness, she didn't really know what it was other than to know she had neverfelt it before.

Bounced,a test of weight, like the jostle of a bag of coins to guess their worth. Witheach landing, shivers quivered through her, his touch an arrow that found itsmark, candle to flame. A horrible, strange thing.

Shecried out, when the man spun her to face the ground. To face him. A stranger asrugged and beautiful as the mountains surrounding them. He had the highcheekbones so common among their clan, yet they did not look common. Darkeyebrows raised in humor, as the lines of his face fitted easily to his smile.

Sherecognized him, in the way a moment or a thing can be familiar even though itis not. She knew just how wavy his hair would be if it weren’t pulled back andtied by a bit of leather. That it was not really black, as it looked now pulledtight against his head, but more the color of cinnamon when moist. The slash ofeyebrows, emphasizing his pleasure, could as easily pull into a frown just aseyes, sparkling with merriment right now, could be as blue and cold as ice in winter.

Sheknew it, knew it all, though he was a stranger with no right to be holding herat all. No right to laughter when she was a riot of confusion.

Noright for him to look as though he knew her as well.

Heplayed with her senses.

Shebatted at his arm. He stilled, holding her aloft. Eye to eye, she stared, waryand vulnerable, fearing he could see deep into her very soul, before he gave asharp nod of satisfaction with her none the wiser why.

Sheglowered at his smug audacity. How dare he take liberties just because he hadarrived with her kin. So what if looks like his could make a lesser womenswoon. Maggie refused to be taken by looks. There were plenty of handsome mento be found in the highlands. She would take that smirk from his face.

Tossedagain, grandly high, Maggie was too confused and angry to thrill in it.Instead, mid-air, she glared at Douglas for being the traitor who passed her tothis man.

“Nay,Douglas,” the man boomed, hearty voice for a hearty man. Her head snapped back,scowl intact. “Feisty but not fat.”  He had the gall to squeeze her waist witheach landing bounce though his eyes were focused higher than her waist, lowerthan her shoulders.

Maggieshifted her arms, crossed on her chest, to better hide her bosom. He winked.

“Notfat at all.”

Sheswiped at him again, toppled so he had to side step to catch her. “Nor toolean.”   His smile broadened, which she’d not thought possible. “To my mind,Douglas,” slowly he lowered Maggie, “Aye.” He nodded thoughtfully. “’Tis true,to my mind she is just rrrright!” His relished R’s tumbled through her in achaotic dance.

Themoment Maggie felt the purchase of land, she shoved away from the man, steppedback on legs that wobbled, straightened her plaid with hands that trembled toomuch to manage. In defiance of any weakness, she lifted her chin.

Hetowered over her, a massive brute of a man. It was no surprise he could tossher high. His muscle-corded arms were the size of cabers themselves. His chest,och, he had naught covering it but a width of plaid. Not that anything wouldfit across that expanse.

Hewas nothing of the sort that Maggie could appreciate. She liked her men longand lanky, with more brain than brawn. This man was all brawn. She doubted hehad a brain, not if he’d be playing with her while her brothers watched. They’dget him for that, just as they dealt with any man who looked at her sideways.

Sheshot a glance toward each of them, and with every sighting her confidence fell.

Nigel,James and Douglas all beamed at her. Her oldest brother, Feargus the younger,strode up to the man and slapped him on the back. They both laughed at somehidden story. Feargus' friendly pats could send a man reeling. Not this one,which made her brothers even more genial.

Allright then, if her brothers would not stand against him, then Maggie would. Shewould stand strong and firm, just as she did with her brothers. It was the onlyway to win concessions with their lot.

Atoss of her head shifted her hair off her shoulders. She straightened her back,showed her own strength, like mare to stallion. His smile quirked, displayed amouth full of straight white teeth. He sent a nod to her brothers, Crisdean andAlec, who had just pushed their way into the crowd. Both grinned back. Even herda looked ready to explode with mirth.

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