“ ’Tis madness!” Bowen Montgomery exclaimed. “He cannot tie you to the wee daft daughter of our most hated foe.”
Graeme Montgomery stared grimly back at his brother, unable to formulate a response for the growing rage in his chest. The king’s messenger had departed and was even now riding beyond the Montgomery border. Graeme had made sure of it. He felt deeply betrayed by his king and wanted no representative of the crown on his lands for a second longer.
“She’s but a child,” Bowen said in disgust. “And she’s … she’s … well, everyone knows she isn’t right. What the hell are you supposed to do with her, Graeme?”
Graeme held up his hand for silence and his fingers trembled, betraying his fury. He turned and stalked away from his brother, needing the distance and solitude to take in the magnitude of what had just been done to him. To his clan.
His king hadn’t just made a simple decree of marriage in an effort to halt hostilities between two feuding clans. He’d effectively chosen to end Graeme’s chance to pass the mantle of leadership on to his heirs.
Because there wouldn’t be any.
It would all end with Graeme.
With no sons to become laird, it would be up to one of his brothers—Bowen or Teague—to assume the role and provide heirs so that the Montgomery name would be carried into the future. His clan might even decide that one of his brothers would be a better choice for laird simply because he would be in a position of having a wife who couldn’t assume her role in the clan and he wouldn’t be able to sire children.
What a damnable mess the whole thing was.
How could his liege have done this? Surely he understood the future he was consigning Graeme to.
He paced into the small antechamber down the narrow hallway from the great hall. The room was darkened, the furs not yet thrown back from the windows. He chose to leave them covered and instead lit a candle from one of the wall sconces in the hallway.
The glow from the candle did little to illuminate the room, but he found his way to the sturdy table where his da had sat many a night scratching his quill over ledgers. The old laird had been a tightfisted, scrutinizing man who held into account every thing of value owned by the clan.
But he had a heart the size of a mountain and he was fair and equal with his clan. He made sure everyone had what they needed. All were clothed and no one went hungry even if it meant he, himself, went without.
Graeme missed him every single day.
He sank heavily into the gnarled chair and ran his hands over the aged wood, almost as if he could feel the essence of his father in this very room.
Marriage. To an Armstrong. It didn’t bear thinking about.
And then there was Bowen with all his babbling about the girl being daft. Graeme hadn’t ever paid much heed to the rumors about the lass being touched. It hadn’t concerned him. Not until now. It was widely known that something was off about the girl and that the Armstrong clan had closed ranks around her.
She’d even been betrothed before, to the McHugh whelp. The McHugh chieftain coveted an alliance with the Armstrongs, because once allied with them, he became a force to be reckoned with. There was no love lost between the Montgomerys and McHughs. The McHughs were every bit as culpable in the death of Graeme’s father, but Graeme knew who’d been directly responsible. And so it was the Armstrongs who were most deserving of his hatred.
He hadn’t been sorry that the betrothal had been dissolved and that the two clans weren’t formally bound by marriage. The Armstrongs weren’t quick to ally themselves with neighboring clans. They didn’t need to. They were a powerful enough force that unless many other clans stood against them, they would be assured a victory in battle.
Tavis Armstrong was just as his father was before him. Mistrustful of treaties and promises. He gave no one opportunity to betray him and he trusted his clan’s welfare to no one save himself.
If they weren’t such bitter enemies, Graeme could almost respect the vigor with which Tavis wielded his power and the fact that he relied on no one for support.
Once the betrothal had been dissolved between the Armstrong daughter and McHugh’s son, not much else was said, other than the occasional murmurs that called into question the lass’s state of mind. Since the Armstrongs weren’t exactly a social clan, and they most definitely held to their own, not much escaped about the only daughter.