Wild Roses
said. Adele
gave a snort of disgust.
    "Those Irish today were no vicious rebels, or if
they were, they made a poor showing for themselves. We cut them down in barely
a few moments' time—after they attacked us, of course. Fools."
    "And how many were there to your ten knights and
twenty-six men-at-arms?"
    "Five, after my crossbowmen downed three—"
    Adele abruptly fell silent while Maire heard Duncan
utter a curse that would have blistered a priest's ears. Yet she did not dare
move though their discussion sickened her. Poor Fiach. He and her clansmen
hadn't stood the slightest chance . . .
    "An attack, Adele? Sounds more like a slaughter,
and yet somehow the wench survived . . . though if any of your men dared to
have touched her—"
    "And what is it to you?" came an indignant
reply, Adele fairly sputtering. "You don't even want her! Go on, then,
content yourself with that insolent little Irish whore Flanna, who seems to
think she has some claim upon you."
    "I asked if your men touched her, Adele? Answer me!"
    "No, they didn't touch her, though Henry FitzHugh
complained enough—"
    "And you'll tell him to keep his accursed hands
from her or risk losing them, am I understood? At least this way I can return
her to her family unharmed—other than the terror she was made to suffer for
your callous bit of sport!"
    Maire jumped as Duncan's voice rang from the rafters
and Adele's rose as well.
    "Do what you will, brother; you were always one to
champion those well beneath you! A curse from your Scots mother that I fear one
day you will sadly rue!"
    Maire didn't have to open her eyes to know that Adele
had stormed from the room, though she did lift her head when Duncan slammed his
fist against the mantel. The blood drained from her face. He looked so furious,
as broodingly dark as Satan, his eyes upon the door where his sister had just
disappeared. But when he saw her looking at him, he muttered something under
his breath and sank to his haunches beside her.
    "What am I to do with you? Dammit, woman, you
haven't even told me your name."
    Maire didn't know what to say, feared saying anything
after what he'd threatened about Ronan . . . that he wanted to see her beloved
brother captured and hung. Jesu, Mary, and Joseph, she had already told him
that she had no father!
    "Enough, I'll not press you further. In the
morning we will talk again. You need rest, I need rest . . ."
    He moved to lift her, but Maire tensed, her eyes
darting in panic to the bed and then back to his face.
    "Don't fear. You may sleep in here tonight. I've a
cot in the other room."
    His voice as huskily gentle as it had been enraged only
moments ago, Maire did not fight him as he lifted her and carried her to the
bed. Something told her that he meant his words and had no intention of
touching her. He laid her down, but did not go so far as to cover her, his eyes
strangely lingering upon her face before he turned and left her.
    He even closed the door to the next room, leaving her
alone, in that huge Norman bed where he had nearly . . .
    Forcing away the disturbing memory of his hands upon
her body, Maire shut her eyes, so exhausted she had no more tears.



    Chapter 5

    Wicklow Mountains, Leinster

    "By God, Niall, how could you have left her?"
    Ronan's fury ringing like thunder in the feasting-hall,
Triona glanced from her husband's incensed face to Niall, who stared back at
his elder brother as angrily.
    Jesu, Mary, and Joseph, this wasn't going well at all.
Yet how could such a terrible situation go well? she asked herself an instant later, pain and worry hanging so great in the air that
it felt like a live presence among them.
    She had never seen Ronan so upset . . . no, there had
been one other time, last autumn. And then his wrath had been directed at her;
it still hurt to think of it. Maire had been at its heart then just as now—oh,
God, poor Maire . . .
    "Ronan and Niall O'Byrne, shouting at each other
isn't going to help

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