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Authors: His Wicked Promise

Samantha James (10 page)

BOOK: Samantha James
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Egan was already on his feet. His blood was boiling and he longed to release his fury. But such anger would have been misplaced.

The trio never noticed as he made for the exit. His step was determined, his resolve both brittle and black. Nay, he decided anew, he’d not be heading back to Dunthorpe just yet.

Nor would he stand aside and allow Glenda to marry a wretch like Simon!

At Blackstone the watchman in the tower yelled in greeting. Egan lifted a hand in brief salute. In the bailey, when a groom scurried over to catch his reins, Egan couldn’t help but note the muted air which prevailed.

His gaze seemed to stab through the air. He leaped from his horse with a great bound. Fury beat like wings in his breast at the sight of Simon’s dark gray steed.

It was then he spied Nessa coming toward him. The old woman spared no time for greeting.

Nessa planted both hands around her staff and looked him up and down, her lips pursed thin with disapproval. “Where the devil have ye been? I sent a man after ye long ago! Och, and to think I was convinced ye could save my lassie!”

Egan’s jaw hardened. He had no time for either explanations or recriminations. He had but one thing to say. “Where is he?”

Without a word, Nessa hitched her chin toward the great hall.

Egan mounted the wide stone stairs two at a time.

Voices drifted his way even before he saw the pair. From around the corner he heard Glenda’s dulcet tones as she inquired, “More wine, Simon?”

Egan stopped short, gritting his teeth. What was this that she served the rogue wine, when what she should be serving him was the toe of her slipper on his arse!

“’Tis not wine I want, but you. I would do anything for you, Glenda. Do you not know this? Nay, say nothing!” Simon went on. “I see by your expression that I have startled you. I pray you, do not be embarrassed. For you see, I know of your predicament. I know of the earl’s…request, shall we say. I assure you, there is no cause for you to worry. I am, as ever, your humble servant, ready and waiting to accommodate you in this.”

“Simon. Simon, please—”

“Nay, do not be shy, duckling. There should be no shyness between husband and wife.”

Egan could stand it no longer. He stepped into the hall. Glenda’s eyes found him first, across Simon’s shoulder. As Simon gleaned another presence, he turned. Irritation was plainly writ on those perfect features.

Egan bristled as an overly familiar hand settled on the curve of Glenda’s waist. Lean fingers bit into his palm. It was the only way he could keep his hands at his sides—and from giving in to the temptation of Simon’s throat.

“Kindly remove your hand from the lady’s person.” Oh-so-pleasantly he spoke.

Simon scowled, but did as he was bid. “We wish to be alone,” he said stiffly.

Egan inclined his head politely. “Indeed. Why is that?”

“Why else?” Simon snapped. “Because we wish to discuss our marriage plans!”

Egan smiled slowly. Even as he spoke, he reached for Glenda. Catching her fingers within his, he drew her to his side.

“Ah,” he said, and his tone was almost whimsical. “Now that’s where you’re wrong, laddie. For you see, the lady has already consented to marry another.”

“Another!” Simon’s features twisted into a snarl. “Who the bloody hell would that be?”

Egan’s smile widened a fraction. “Me,” he said softly.

In truth, Egan could not say what came over him. Until that very instant when he’d heard the words come forth from his own lips, he had not known what he would say…what he would do.

His heart thundered.

For years he’d had to stand back and watch her with his friend…with Niall. Oh, aye, he’d pretended he did not care. He’d carefully preserved his distance and masked his emotions, watching as the pair fell ever more deeply beneath the spell of love! No one had ever suspected his true feelings. Of a certainty not Niall. Not even Cameron, and most assuredly not Glenda! Oh, he’d despised himself for his jealousy. Yet scarce a day went by that it did not eat away inside him. It was like a blight upon his soul, the wrenching awareness that she would never belong to him. Knowing that she longed for another man. That she slept in the bed of his friend, clasped tight in Niall’s arms…Niall, whom he loved like a brother! That she cared for another…and would never care for him.

Yet in that shattering instant between one heart
beat and the next, he knew only that he could not stand by and watch her with another man yet again. By God, he
would
not!

And somehow—
somehow
—he had known what must be done.

What he must do.

Tensely he waited. Ah, but so much depended on her.
Everything
depended on her.

His heart thundered violently, in a way that had never happened before, for this was a fear unlike any other he had ever known—unlike any fear he had ever faced against any foe.

Beside him, he felt Glenda tremble. A tremor of shock, he wondered? Or a shudder of fear? Mayhap even revulsion…The small fingers within his grasp were icy-cold. But she did not denounce his statement…she did not denounce
him
.

Simon’s features had turned a mottled red. He sputtered. “You—you have stolen her from me.”

Egan’s smile grew thin. “I have not.”

“You have, you…you wretched Highlander!”

Egan’s smile grew thin. He uttered a fervent, silent plea to the Heavens that Simon would not glean his dilemma, would not know that he was taking the risk of a lifetime!

“The lady makes her own choice,” he said with soft deliberation, “but mayhap you should hear it from her lips, and not mine.”

Two pairs of male eyes immediately swung to Glenda. Her head was lowered, her eyes downcast, her thoughts a mystery to both.

Egan took a breath, praying as never before. With a lightness that far belied the tumult in his soul, he
said, “Whom will you wed, Glenda? Me? Or Simon?”

The seconds spun out endlessly. Just when he was convinced that all was for naught, that he’d gambled greatly and lost, she fixed her eyes upon him.

“You,” she said, her voice so low he had to strain to hear her. “I will marry…you.”

Something hotly primitive leaped in his breast. Unable to disguise his triumph, a brow climbed high. He glanced at Simon.

Simon gave a vile curse. Spinning around, he stormed to the door.

They were left alone. In the hearth, the fire snapped and hissed. The flames flared high, then burned low.

Glenda was still reeling. From his statement. From the day as a whole. Was it naught but a dream? By the blood of Christ, this could not be happening! She was still too stunned by all the day had wrought to do aught but stand there.

She spouted the first thing that vaulted into her mind. “I thought that you had gone. I watched you leave!”

Egan did not take his eyes from her. “I did not go far,” he said simply.

Only then did she snatch her hand away. Proudly she drew herself up before him.

“Would that you had!”

Egan saw then that it was neither fear nor revulsion which had held sway her tongue. She was not afraid. She was angry—as angry as he had ever seen her.

His eyes narrowed. “If I had,” he pointed out, “you would even now be planning your wedding vows to
Simon the Lawless. Or did I speak too soon? Is he the one you wish to wed? If so, why did you not say so?”

She ignored the question, as he thought she might. Instead she countered with one of her own. “Why?” she said, in a voice that shook as much as her body had but a moment earlier. “Why did you do this? Why would you say such a thing?”

Frustration gnawed at him. What was he to say? That he ached for her? Burned for her with a fever that ignited his very being? Nay. He could not. For Egan had his pride, too, and he would not bare his soul in the face of her unbridled fury.

“What the devil was I to do? I was at the alehouse, Glenda, when I heard Simon’s men.” Sparing no thought for her tender ears, he recounted precisely what Simon’s men had said, taking a perverse satisfaction in the way her skin turned as white as fresh milk. “He meant to have you, Glenda. I knew it that first night he came here to Blackstone. And you admitted you needed to be wary.”

“And so I was—and so I am!” she cried wildly, her emotions hopelessly distorted. “I will not have Simon. Indeed, I will have no man!”

“That is not what you said. From your own lips, you said you would marry me.”

“Only because you trapped me! Because you knew I would not choose Simon over you. I-I do not see why I need marry either one of you!”

Egan was both outraged and incensed. “What, then? Were we wrong, both Simon and I? Perchance the earl did not advise that you take a husband after all. Perchance he did not tell you that if you did not
make haste, he would choose a husband for you instead.”

The blaze in her eyes flickered, then died out. She said nothing. Though he decried his tactics, he pressed home his advantage.

“Do you want to lose Blackstone to Simon?”

“Nay.” Her gaze faltered, then fell. The word was a low, muted sound.

“To the earl, then?”

“Nay!”

“You have no choice, nor do I. Even if I had left—even if I departed now—the earl would choose a husband for you.” He watched her closely. “And we both know he would choose Simon.”

Glenda compressed her lips. She knew it, but something inside would not let her admit it. Not now. Resentment gathered full and ripe within her. She was too furious just now. To all of these men—Simon, the earl, and Egan—her life and her home were like a pair of dice, to be tossed in the air at whim and will, to fall where they would.

“At least you know you can trust me—”

“Trust?” she burst out. “How can you speak of trust, after what you have just done?” Her gaze was as blistering as her tone.

His regard sharpened. “You have known me for many a year, Glenda. Have you ever known me to lie?”

Glenda glared at him. Ah, but he was so damned smug! Was he so assured of victory, then? By the Rood, she would not oblige him further!

He moved before she knew what he was about. His
hands came down on her shoulders and pulled her close. He stared into her upturned face.

“Have you?” he demanded. “Have you ever known me to lie? Have you ever known me to commit a falsehood against anyone, man or woman?”

There was no escaping the determined glitter of those ice-fire eyes. Though she longed to answer in the affirmative, in the end, it was
she
who could not lie. “Nay,” she admitted, her voice very low. “But if that is true, then tell me this, Egan. Why would you do this? Why would you sacrifice your freedom and take a wife? Is it truly to protect me? Because of your promise to Cameron?”

Everything shifted then. It was not she who was on the defensive, but he. Slowly he released her.

“That is a part of it.” He hesitated. “But that is not all.”

“I thought not.” Her tone was arch.

“Do you think I will deceive you now? I will not,” he stated evenly. “If I return to Dunthorpe, I will have naught but a place at Cameron’s side, a bed beneath his roof.” Nay, he would not lie. For so long now, it had been enough. But there was an emptiness that stretched inside him, a restlessness he had only just now begun to recognize. “This may well be an opportunity I will never have again. But if we are wed—”

“Then Blackstone is yours!”

“Aye. If we are wed, I will have a home and lands.”

“Ah, what have we here? ’Tis not to protect me at all, but for your own gain!”

Egan regarded her tautly.

“You will find fault no matter what I say, Glenda,” he stated knowingly. “With me as your husband, you and the people of Blackstone can be assured of protection. I have nothing to lose.” A roguish black brow arched aloft. “Can you say the same?”

A stark, wrenching pain ripped through her. Glenda could summon no retort, because deep inside, she was aware that he was right.

If she delayed, the earl might well choose a husband for her—and what if that man was Simon? The thought of Simon’s hands on her body, invading every corner of her life…She couldn’t bear it! But was Egan any better? She felt as if he’d betrayed her no less than if he’d buried a knife in her back!

“You dare to speak to me of trust. Well, I trusted you, Egan. You told me you would stay until Blackstone was safe. Ah, but now the truth is out,” she flung at him. “You will stay and help me, aye—but marriage is your price for helping me and my people!”

“This was not of my doing, Glenda.”

“But it is of your choosing! My father devoted his entire life to Blackstone Tower and his people! I cannot lose it, not now!”

“So that’s it, isn’t it? I told you once I wouldn’t wrest control of Blackstone from you, and I will not. Aye, when we are wed, Blackstone will be mine. But it is yours as well, and, God willing, it will ever be so.”

“So you say now! But what will happen when we are wed…
if
we are wed?”

Egan’s jaw clenched hard. There would be no reasoning with her, not now.

“If we are wed? You need me,” he observed tightly, “far more than I need you. At least if we marry, we both profit, do we not?”

When she made no reply, his gaze pinned hers, ruthlessly direct, ruthlessly intent. “You have no choice,” he reminded her harshly. “I have nothing to lose. Can you say the same?”

Unfairness raged inside her. Why, she wondered bitterly, must women ever bow to men? She felt as if the world were crumbling beneath her.

She had thought she’d been prepared to do anything to save Blackstone. Yet she had never dreamed what it would cost her. She’d never dreamed it would come to this! The price was far steeper than she had ever imagined. Yet she would do whatever she must to save Blackstone, no matter the cost, even to herself.

A wave of bleakness swept over her. Nothing could save her now. Egan was right. If she did not marry, the earl would simply see to it that she married another…and God help her, it would not be Simon.

Egan was the only one who could help her. Dear God,
Egan

Her voice was but a thread of sound. “So be it then. I will marry you.” She did not look at him, but cast her eyes downward.

His scrutiny deepened. The tension remained as pulsing as ever, but his harshness waned. Glenda was too distraught to notice.

“Glenda,” he said softly. He stretched out a hand. “Glenda, come here.”

A reckless indignation washed over her. Her head
snapped up “I will not!” she said bitterly. “Aye, I will wed you, but the vows are not yet said, so I will thank you to keep your hands to yourself.”

Egan’s expression went utterly remote. He inclined his head. “As you wish, then,” he intoned coolly. “I will send word to the earl that we will be married one week hence.”

BOOK: Samantha James
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