Forgiving Hearts: Duncurra 1-3

Forgiving Hearts: Duncurra 1-3 by Ceci Giltenan Read Free Book Online

Book: Forgiving Hearts: Duncurra 1-3 by Ceci Giltenan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ceci Giltenan
of it.”
    “Frankly, everything I thought I knew about you has been wrong.”
    Confused, she said, “I don’t understand.”
    “Never mind, it isn’t important. Tell me, how long has Ambrose Ruthven acted as your guardian?”
    “Five years. He and my father were hunting. Apparently something spooked my father’s horse. He was thrown and killed instantly.”
    “Your mother died before him?”
    “Aye, she died when I was ten. The plague swept through Scotland that year.” She paused for a moment. “So many people died then, entire families in some cases. At least my father and I had each other.” She sighed, stroking Tomas’ head. “Things changed so much after he died.” She took a deep breath, looking away for a moment before saying, “So, I became an orphan, an heiress, and ward to a cruel uncle at fourteen. There isn’t much more to the story.”
    Niall’s expression grew dark at the mention of her uncle’s cruelty.
    Fingal broke the silence by saying, “Gentleman, our lady would like to learn a little bit about us. Shall I tell her?”
    “Just don’t damn us with faint praise,” said Keith.
    “It is much more likely he will simply damn us,” Alan added.
    Fingal glared mockingly at Alan, then glanced around. “Hmm, where shall I start?” he considered the other men. “With the three old men at the top, I think. Diarmad is Niall’s second in command. As ye know, he left today with six other men. There are two captains under Diarmad, Cairbre, who remained behind in charge of Duncurra, and Alan here. As we have established, Alan is old,” Fingal teased. Alan did appear to be older than the others, but while lines creased his weathered face, his dark brown hair didn’t have any gray in it.
    Alan frowned, “Mind who ye are calling ‘old,’ Fingal. Any of the three of us can still best ye.”
    The men laughed and Fingal went on, undaunted.
    “Alan is married to the lovely Effie, who is one of the clan’s midwives. She is a very good midwife, probably because she has had a lot of practice.”
    Again, the men laughed, and for the first time all day, Niall joined in, explaining, “Alan and Effie have been blessed with eight children. I would ask him to tell ye about them, but he is a very proud father. His children are his favorite topic of conversation. If I give him an opening, he might still be talking about them as the sun rises.”
    More laughter erupted, but Alan replied, “I will remind ye of this someday, Laird, when ye are bending my ear about your own brood.”
    Katherine blushed, realizing the “brood” to which Alan referred would be hers as well.
    Fingal continued, “Then we have Muir.” Shorter than Niall and with a leaner build, Muir had sandy brown hair. “Muir, too, is married, but no one understands how that happened.” It was Muir’s turn to glare as Fingal went on. “His wife, Shona, is one of our finest weavers. They have two sons, one of whom is training with one of our allies, Fearghas Chisholm. The other is now training with Niall’s men.”
    “How many men do you have?” Katherine asked.
    “There are twenty in my elite guard, who not only guard my back, but are leaders and trainers of my other men. There are roughly one hundred more warriors who see to the clan’s protection full time,” Niall answered. “In addition to Cairbre, six other guardsmen remained at Duncurra.
    Ruthven had more than twice that many soldiers, she thought, but if Niall’s elite guard was any indicator, she doubted the Ruthven men were half as well trained.
    “Next is Turcuil,” said Fingal. Huge didn’t begin to describe Turcuil.
    Katherine suspected people believed in giants because of men like him. At least a head taller than and half again as wide as Niall, he had to be the biggest man she had ever seen. His size, coupled with his black bushy hair and beard, gave him a fearsome appearance.
    Fingal’s eyes twinkled with mischief as he continued to introduce the giant. “Ye

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