Her eyes ate him, and she wasn’t being entirely discreet about it. She hoped that his fever and pain kept him from noticing her avid attention.
“I must look at your wound,” she said, damning the husky catch to her voice.
He glanced down and then slowly rolled onto his good side so that his injury was outward.
“I must thank you, Keeley. I don’t remember much about the day I was injured, only that I knew I would die if I didn’t seek aid immediately. When I opened my eyes and saw you, I knew that God had sent me an angel.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” she said lightly. “Angel I’m not. I’m merely an ordinary woman who is skilled in the healing arts. ’Tis nothing more than knowledge gleaned from other women who’ve come before me.”
“Nay,” he denied. He reached up and caught her hand when she moved closer, bringing her fingers to his lips.
Tingles shot up her arm and her chest tightened in pleasure. It was hard not to smile at the handsome warrior who wielded pretty words as surely as he did a broadsword.
She caught his wrist and gently pushed until his arm was over his head at an angle. Then she leaned in to survey his newly stitched wound. It pleased her to see the redness had abated and that it no longer looked quite so raw and angry.
“What’s the verdict? Will I live?” he asked in amusement.
“Aye, warrior. You’ll live a long, healthy life. You’re fit, which will aid you in a complete recovery.”
“Glad to hear it.”
When she allowed him to lay his arm back down, he rubbed at his belly and grimaced.
“Aye. Fair to starving.”
“ ’Tis a good sign,” she said with an approving nod. “I’ll ask for a trencher to be brought up.”
“You don’t leave.”
She raised her brow because it wasn’t a request. The command in his voice was evident.
At the lowering of his voice, she all but melted again.
“Aye. I’ll stay.”
He gifted her with a smile even as his eyelids lowered. He blinked, fighting the urge to sleep. She laid her hand over his forehead. “Rest, warrior. I’ll have your food to you in a moment.”
She rose from the bed and smoothed her skirts, wishing she didn’t look so bloody awful. She’d made it to the door and was about to open it when it swung open. She scowled at the intruder, letting him know his bursting in wasn’t welcome.
Caelen scowled back, letting her know he wasn’t impressed with her ire.
“How is he?” he demanded.
She swept her hand toward the bed. “See for yourself. He was awake a few moments ago. He’s hungry.”
Caelen strode past her and she made a face at his back. When she turned around to exit, she nearly ran into Ewan.
“I don’t suppose you’ll forget you saw that,” she muttered.
Ewan’s lips twisted in amusement. “Saw what?”
Keeley nodded her approval and then walked past, not really knowing where she was going, but she could definitely use some air. She could still feel Alaric’s mouth on hers. She could still taste him.
Alaric kept his gaze fastened on the lass until she disappeared from view. Then he shot his brothers the full force of his glare.
“Is there something you wanted?” he asked irritably.
“Aye,” Caelen drawled. “For instance, to know whether you were still alive or not.”
“As you can see I am. Isn’t there something else you could be doing?”
Ewan shook his head and sat on the stool next to the bed. “Forget your fascination with the lass for a moment. There are things we must know. Starting with who did this to you.”
Alaric sighed. His side ached. His head felt as though he’d spent the last week drowning in a tankard of ale, and he was hungry and grouchy to boot. The last thing he wanted was an inquisition.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “They ambushed us in the middle of the night. It was a slaughter. We were outnumbered at least six to one. Maybe more. I barely managed escape and don’t remember much beyond waking up feeling as though I was being burned by the fires of hell but with an angel soothing the pain.”
Caelen snorted. “More like a she-demon likely mated to Satan himself.”
“She saved my life,” Alaric said.
“Aye, she did,” Ewan agreed. “She has a fine hand at healing. I plan for her to attend Mairin’s birth.”
Unexpected pleasure—and excitement—coursed through Alaric’s blood, stirring desire he hadn’t felt for a woman in a long time. He had plenty of dalliances. A quick tup now and then was good for a man’s disposition. But Keeley fired his senses like no other. He was on edge, his skin way too tight, all because she wasn’t near.
“She agreed to come here and be our healer?” Alaric asked casually.
Caelen chuckled. “Not exactly.”
Alaric narrowed his eyes. “What does that mean?”
“It means we didn’t give her a choice in the matter. You needed her skills and so will Mairin. So I brought her here,” Ewan said with a shrug.
Typical Ewan. He made a decision and acted on it. Though he liked the idea of Keeley being near, it didn’t sit well that his brothers had manhandled her. It would explain her sharpness with him.
“Forget the woman,” Caelen said darkly. “Unless you forget, you have an agreement to wed McDonald’s daughter.”
Nay, he hadn’t forgotten. He may have pushed it from his mind temporarily, but he hadn’t forgotten why he’d embarked on the journey where he’d lost several of his best men.
“I received a missive from Gregor a few hours ago,” Ewan said. “He was concerned that you hadn’t arrived yet. I held off sending him word of what transpired until I knew myself what exactly had happened.”
“ ’Twas as I said,” Alaric said wearily. He raised his hand and rubbed his aching temple. “We’d stopped for the night. Six men were standing guard. In the middle of the night we were attacked with speed and ferocity I haven’t witnessed since the attack that decimated our keep eight years ago.”
“Cameron?” Caelen asked with a scowl.
Ewan blew out his breath, his eyes as dark as a winter storm. “Who else? What purpose would anyone else have to launch such a vicious attack? This was no demand for ransom. You don’t slaughter people you have hopes of collecting a bounty for.”
Caelen leaned against the wall, his lips set into a grim line. “But why Alaric? Mairin and Neamh Álainn have been his focus. Killing you makes sense, Ewan. That gets him closer to his aim of having both Mairin and her inheritance. Killing Alaric does nothing to further his crusade.”
“He has a vested interest in keeping our clans from allying themselves,” Alaric pointed out. “ ’Tis not just the McDonalds. ’Tis the fact we would control a vast portion of land and that neighboring clans would readily join with us. They’d be afraid not to.”
“I’ll send word to McDonald of what occurred. I’ll alert him so that he will be on guard against a possible attack by Cameron. We’ll determine what is to be done about your marriage to Rionna.”
Caelen nodded his agreement. “For now our focus should be on Mairin’s safety and seeing her through the delivery of her child. All else can wait.”
Alaric also nodded, relief rushing through his body until the sensation left him light-headed. He knew their clan needed this alliance with the McDonalds. Their future depended on making strong ties with neighboring clans. He even coveted the position of laird of his own clan. But that didn’t mean he was in a rush to leave everything he held dear. It didn’t mean he was ready to rush into marriage with a woman who inspired nothing within him.
Perhaps that explained his unreasonable attraction to Keeley. Not only did the lass save him, but proximity and the fact that he was hesitant to bind himself to another woman might account for him wanting her near him. She was a distraction. Aye, nothing more.
Feeling better now that he’d explained away his odd fascination with her, he returned his attention to his brothers.
“I won’t be down for long. It’s naught but a cut to my side. I’ll be up and on the training field in no time. And then we can turn our attention to staining the countryside with Cameron’s blood.”
Caelen snorted. “A wee cut? You nearly died from that scratch. You’ll rest and do as Keeley instructs even if I have to tie you down and sit on you.”
Alaric scowled at his younger brother. “This cut won’t prevent me from giving you a sound beating.”
Caelen rolled his eyes and Ewan scowled at them both. “You act like a bunch of children.”
“So says the old married man,” Alaric retorted.
Caelen snickered and nodded his agreement. Behind Ewan’s back, he made a gesture that signaled Mairin had Ewan by the cock. Alaric choked back his laughter and then groaned at the flash of pain that soared through his midsection.
“ ’Tis obvious you’ll need to spend the next days in bed,” Ewan said grimly. “Caelen is right. If we have to tie you down, we’ll do it. Don’t test me on this, brother.”
Alaric blew out his breath. “I’ve no need of your coddling. Leave off. I’ll get out of the bed when I’m good and bloody ready. As it happens, I’m in no hurry. I intend to allow Keeley to wait on me hand and foot.”
Caelen shook his head. “I’ve no idea what you see in that prickly lass. She has the appeal of a hedgehog.”
“Then I won’t have to warn you off her, will I?” Alaric said with a grin.
“Remember your duty and your forthcoming marriage,” Ewan said quietly.
Alaric sobered. “ ’Tis all I can think of, Ewan. I’m not likely to forget.”
Ewan rose. “We’ll leave you to rest now. Keeley should be back up with your meal in a moment’s time. Then perhaps you should allow the lass to go to her chamber and rest. She has attended you for the last days without sleep.”
Alaric nodded, but he had no intention of allowing her to sleep alone in her chamber. She would remain with him. In his arms.
As his brothers went to exit, Keeley came in bearing a trencher in one hand and a goblet in the other. Alaric stared at her flushed face. Aye, she looked tired. Worn through. She’d been diligent in her care of him.
He was still ailing. He wasn’t even close to feeling himself no matter what he’d told his brothers, but from this moment on, he was going to take care of Keeley and make sure she had the rest she needed.
Keeley eyed his brothers with irritation, which amused Alaric. She stepped around them and didn’t spare them another glance as she walked over to Alaric’s bedside.
“I have broth and some ale. I wanted water, but Gertie insisted that a braw man should drink ale if he wants to regain his strength.”
“Gertie has the right of it. Good stout ale will cure damn near anything.”
Keeley wrinkled her nose but didn’t argue. “Can you sit up?”
Alaric glanced down, then gingerly planted his elbow in the mattress to give himself a shove upward.
Agony lanced up his side, stealing his breath. He froze, panting softly as a red haze settled over his vision.
Keeley made a sound of alarm and then suddenly she was there. Surrounding him with her arms and her softness. Some of the vicious pain subsided and he drew in steadying breaths as he leaned into her.
She jerked several pillows behind him, then eased him back until he was propped against the wall. “Slowly, warrior. I know it hurts.”
He lay there panting, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. Nausea welled in his belly and it was all he could do not to lean over and heave. Jesu, but that little cut in his side hurt like the devil.
He started to protest when she moved away, but before he could open his mouth, she was back, trencher and ale in hand. She gave him the goblet and then slid onto the bed beside him, her curvy body nestling against his side.
“Sip slowly until your stomach has settled,” she murmured.
How she knew he was on the verge of retching his guts up he didn’t know, but he made sure to follow her advice and took wary sips of the strong brew.
After a few swallows, he grimaced and set the goblet away. “I think you had the right of it, Keeley. I think plain water would be easier on my stomach. ’Tis the truth the ale seems to sour it all the more.”
“Here,” she said in a gentle voice. “Sip at the broth from the trencher. See if that does the trick. I’ll go down and fetch some water for you in a moment.”
“Nay, don’t move.” He threw back his head and bellowed Gannon’s name.
Keeley jumped beside him and drew in her breath.
“Sorry, lass,” he said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
They had only a moment to wait before the door burst open and Gannon stuck his head in. Keeley shot him a bemused look and Alaric chuckled.