Things were becoming clearer all the time. She was surrounded by friends and the brotherly love was unexpected but welcome. Xander. What must he think of her? Showing weakness was foreign to her nature. He must despise her now. She had to know yet didn’t want to seek him out just yet. Ava was seated beside her, though her head seemed to be in the clouds. Having seen Prince Finn Mac Neill, albeit briefly, and as if in a dream, Eithne could understand why. “I have a mind to venture to the solar,” she said. Her fellow princess cringed visibly. “Wouldn’t you rather take the air?” she asked. “I often go up to the battlements. You can see for miles.” Eithne sighed. “You can’t avoid him forever,” she said. “I know.” “Where is Jocasta?” The look on Ava’s face changed to one of horror and then she remembered. “Sorry, it must have slipped my mind,” she said. How lame that sounded, how unfeeling. Intending to comfort Ava, it turned out the opposite was true. “You’ve been so ill, Eithne.
They were an unlikely trio united in a common cause. Rufus reckoned Jens was the only chivalrous one among them yet both he and the enigmatic Frankian had chosen to depart on this mission. Fuck, he was even thinking like him now! Once he returned to the centre of Ormond, his rough edges made smooth like his new way of speaking, he could probably take his pick.Well, there was only one woman for him. Even if she told him she didn’t love him, he would offer his protection. Megan had scars which she didn’t permit everyone to see. Let someone else spy for Xander, if necessary. Maybe he would apply for the position.The sudden bubble up of mirth from nowhere had him almost falling back off the bench in the alehouse yet he wasn’t drunk, far from it. Let them think it. He didn’t owe anyone an explanation.Jens was eyeing him curiously. He didn’t sense disdain and Norsemen were notorious for not keeping anything back.“Something you want to say?” he asked, unintentionally making it into a cha
Finn had been quick to distance himself from his brother’s actions. He said Ava had told him he should have known as this wasn’t out of character, just unexpected here and now.“Fear not,” Xander said. “I have no desire to consign you to the tower.”“I didn’t see it coming,” he admitted. “Nor did my men. I expect he gave them little choice: join him or else.”“Will you be my adviser, seeing as you know him best?”“Of course. How can I face Ava otherwise?”“What is her sister like?”“Grace? Very beautiful, but so vain and self-centred. She and my brother are a good match.”Xander sighed.“This is partly my fault. I wondered why so many princes were keen to join my quest.” He coughed. “Or rather, King Ephron’s.”“How is he?” Finn asked.“Not good. I may become regent for a time.”“I wish I could pledge you men as well as my support,” the younger man said.When he had gone, Xander went to lie down on the royal bed. It wasn’t his way to enjoy the fancier trappings which went with a succes
Xander hadn’t sued for peace so much as cheated in its name. He would do the same again, twice over, if it meant avoiding war. His betrothed had been taken aback by his tactics but he couldn’t afford to let her in on it; her surprise would go a long way to convincing this new enemy whose ego was legendary.Maybe some flowers would mollify her. He had treated her like a pawn and she was still sulking.Encountering his sister in the corridor he enlisted her help.Genevieve’s eyes danced with amusement.“Just be yourself. Spend some time with her. It’s all a girl ever wants. Gifts only make us think you want to atone.”But I do, he thought. For the way it all began.The Danes were preparing to depart, while Finn was now in charge of his brother’s forces.“Stay awhile,” he’d encouraged both the group of Norsemen and those loyal to a different Mac Neill.“Tell him,” Ava urged, nudging Connor’s brother.She was seldom far from his side these days.“We’d like to settle here permanently,” he
It wasn’t the most romantic of proposals yet it set her heart aflutter. Eithne gulped.“I will need to change my gown,” she said.“Princess, I didn’t mean now.”“Oh. Forget it then,” she snapped, and had to ask herself why.“I have no intention of doing so. In fact, letting you out of my sight is not an option either.” Xander took her hand. “Come with me to Beeveland,” he coaxed.“Now? Why?”“Not now. Once the affairs of Ormond are sorted.”“I fear that will never happen. Still, it would be good to get away and probably best for Genevieve if we do.”“What do you mean?”“Nothing,” she said, hastily.That crush on one of the Danes, blurted out impulsively after an excess of good local mead, needed nipping in the bud in her opinion. Halfdan was leaving anyway. She hadn’t meant to let the cat out of the bag, but Xander was nothing if not persistent in his questioning.“Genevieve has no sense of propriety,” he fumed.That was rich coming from him, a self-styled conqueror and enslaver. Eith
There was a new hazard to be overcome once they were close to the fresh air. Xander pulled Eithne back just as she was on the point of exposing herself to the men surrounding the small boat.That gave him an idea. He knew she wouldn’t like it.“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you how much you love the realm,” he said, in a low voice which sounded mock serious even to his own ears.“I don’t understand.”“Trust me, you will. Well?”“It is my solemn duty to do anything to help the kingdom of Ormond.”“Thank the good Lord, I was hoping you would say that. You didn’t swear?”“Unlike the royal heir, it was enough that I made a promise to my father, the late King.”“I see. Now, I want you to do exactly as I say. Strip!”Her eyes widened.“Here? Now? But I thought – ”“As I suspected. A most disloyal subject,” he said. “Must I do everything myself, including undressing you?”“You failed before,” she pointed out, her violet eyes stormy.“This is a needs must situation,” he said, spinning h
The lightning strike had done all the damage, and now Prince Connor Mac Neill lay dying in tremendous pain, one of his legs crushed beneath a fall of rocks. Despite what he had done, turning on them like that, Eithne saw to his comfort, staying with him until the end.Finn was devastated and Ava was nestled in his arms, sobbing openly. That was what death did, it made you remember the good times. In most cases.Though she tried her best, she could not find it in her to mourn her mother, the despised lover and the fake brother.It was an act of God. She would see to it they had a decent burial and that was all.King Ephron seemed to be recovering, as if disaster was making a man of him whereas the ability to do as he pleased had not. Genevieve may have had something to do with that. If he was enamoured that was his affair. Eithne knew Xander’s sister would never consent to be his.They were for Beeveland soon and she was looking forward to seeing the country of his birth. The conqueror
The pastures were endless here and probably more fertile. Eithne bit her lip. She hoped she was with child, though it was too soon to tell.Each province had its own dialect so that her correct Frankish wasn’t always enough for her to make herself understood. But she seemed to charm all she met. Was that because Princess Genevieve was by her side, waving to the people from the litter? It was quite obvious Xander wasn’t so popular.He probably didn’t care, but she did. If they were going to rule here, they had to command respect from their subjects.“What happened?” she asked him that night as they lay beside each other in bed.She was still his betrothed as the priest had been stricken with something and it had seemed churlish to postpone their trip.“You mean, how did they get rid of me before? I walked,” he said.Her forehead puckered.“I don’t understand.”“The people kept on and on asking me about Genevieve until I couldn’t take it any more.”“So you deposed yourself? If such a th