“You care for her,” Robina Armstrong said in a shocked tone.
Graeme whipped his head around to pierce the other woman with his gaze. The others had gathered in the doorway. Some had already spilled into the room, their expressions worried. He cared not who heard his next words.
“My lady, I don’t simply care for her. I love her. She is my entire life. Without her, I am nothing. I have nothing.”
Her eyes widened until they were enormous against her pale face. Tavis stepped in to take her by the shoulders, pulling her back against his chest.
“Let him be, love. His concern is foremost for Eveline. There is much we didn’t know of her.” He broke off, his voice thick with grief. “I made so many mistakes. It nearly cost us our daughter. It could have cost us our daughter.”
“What do you speak of?” Robina demanded.
Tavis shook his head. “ ’Tis not the time. You will hear all when we are certain that Eveline is well and has recovered from her ordeal. For now, we will do all we can to make Graeme and his kin welcome in our home. He cares a great deal for Eveline and has set aside his thirst for revenge because he loves her more than he hates me.”
Robina stared at Graeme in utter bewilderment. “ ’Tis true?”
Graeme issued a short nod and then turned his attention back to Eveline. Even though he knew she could not hear him, he was nearly compelled to speak to her. Instead, he contented himself with touching her, stroking his fingers over her face as he prayed for her to awaken.
Turning to the others, he issued a short command for them to leave the room so he could remove her damp clothing. Then he glanced at her father. “Will you have a serving woman build up the fire? I don’t want Eveline to be cold.”
“I’ll fetch a warm sleeping gown for her to wear,” Robina said, already hurrying for the door.
Tavis himself put wood in the bare fireplace and put flame to the logs. When Robina pushed back into the chamber, she shooed the others away, and then she came to stand beside Graeme.
“I’ll tend to my daughter if you wish to step outside with the others.”
“I’m not leaving her,” Graeme said bluntly. “You can stay or go as you wish, but I am going to examine her myself so I can see what injuries she has sustained. Have you a healer you can summon if ’tis more serious than I fear?”
Robina nodded wordlessly, her expression still one of befuddlement over Graeme’s fierceness when it came to Eveline. It was no matter. She’d learn soon enough that he had no intention of leaving Eveline’s side.
Satisfied that she’d question him no further, he turned his attention to removing the tattered, dirty dress that clung damply to her skin.
Her mother gasped when the fading bruises that had already been present on Eveline came into view.
“Oh merciful heaven,” Robina whispered.
“ ’Tis not what you think,” Graeme said grimly. “She sustained these bruises not at the hands of Ian McHugh, but from a fall from a horse while she was still on Montgomery land.”
“A horse?” Robina exclaimed. “Why on earth was she on a horse? Did you force her to ride?”
Graeme whipped his head around. “Of course I did not. She rode back to the keep to summon help for me when I was felled by an arrow.”
Robina’s eyes rounded once more in astonishment. It was an expression that seemed permanently imprinted on her face ever since Graeme’s arrival. He supposed he understood her confusion. It would seem they’d known very little of their daughter, which was a shame, because Eveline was extremely special.
Graeme finished removing the gown, relieved when he saw no sign of further injury to her body. He could only pray that Ian had not raped her. The thought made his stomach clench and his heart ache.
With Robina’s help, he gently bathed her skin, removing the dirt and grime from the dungeon, as well as the smell. He didn’t want her to experience any discomfort. After she was clean, he attired her in a fresh woolen gown lined with fur that kept her warm and also prevented the wool from scratching her skin.
He gently pulled her hair away from her head and then meticulously ran his fingers over her scalp to check for any bumps or breaks in the skin.