He rubbed his hands up and down her back until finally some of her panic faded and she went limp against him. He kissed her temple, her still damp hair, and the shell of her ear. His breath blew warm over her cheek and she snuggled deeper into his embrace, her eyes closing.
She would face her family when she awakened. Maybe by then, her voice would have returned and she would be able to give them the words to explain what she’d done.
Graeme sat propped in bed, Eveline perched on his lap, his arms wrapped around her in support as she faced her brothers and her parents with something she’d long withheld from them. The truth.
He sat quietly, merely holding her while she swallowed her courage and plunged ahead with the entire story, ending with her capture by Ian McHugh and the terror she felt that he’d follow through with all the promises he’d made when she was much younger.
Rage mottled the faces of Brodie and Aiden. Tears glistened in her father’s eyes and he wouldn’t even meet Eveline’s gaze. Shame crowded his features and it hurt Eveline to see the pain on his face. Her mother was weeping softly, but there was also joy in her eyes, which heartened Eveline.
They weren’t angry. Their emotions seemed to run from gladness to sorrow. And anger at Ian McHugh. But not at her.
She sagged against Graeme, taking comfort in his embrace. She’d gratefully seized on his strength, needing every ounce she could muster to brave her family.
“Why did you not tell me?” Brodie asked, sadness in his gaze as he stared at Eveline. “You have to know I would have championed you.”
“You could not have changed Papa’s mind,” she said.
“ ’Tis I who must shoulder the blame for all that you felt forced to do,” her father said, his expression strained.
“Nay!” Eveline denied. “Please, I cannot bear to see you all so sad. It was a stupid thing to do. I accept that. I don’t regret my actions, because perhaps things would not be as they are now. But it was not a good thing nor was it your fault. I lied. I deceived you. I became ensnared in a web I couldn’t escape. I only wanted you to know the truth now and for you also to know that I do not blame you. I am not angry. I love you.”
Her mother rose from her seat next to Eveline’s father and came forward to where Eveline sat across Graeme’s lap. She held out her arms and Eveline went willingly, hugging her mother as fiercely as her mother hugged her.
It had been so long since she’d had such contact with her mother and she savored the warmth and love of something as wondrous as a mother’s hug. Even though she was no longer a child, she was not so old that she had no need of her mother’s comfort. There was not a better feeling in the world.
Her mother drew away, framing Eveline’s face. Tears slid down her mother’s face, but then she smiled, her eyes shining with love and forgiveness.
“ ’Tis true then, you can read all that I say from merely watching my lips?”
Eveline nodded. “Aye.”
“Clever lass,” her mother said, patting her cheek.
Her father also rose and stood a short distance away, his eyes haunted. No longer able to bear the sadness on his face, Eveline pushed away from Graeme. Sensing her intention, Graeme helped her to her feet.
Eveline walked to where her father stood and wrapped her arms around his waist, rested her cheek on his burly chest, and squeezed with all her strength.
His arms immediately came around her, holding her as tightly as she held him. His body shook against her and he kissed the top of her head.
When he pulled away, there were visible tear tracks on his cheeks and grief was heavy in his gaze.
“I’m sorry, my baby,” he said.
She shook her head. “Nay, ’tis all forgiven. And ’twas I who should have begged your forgiveness. All is well now. ’Tis all that matters.”
Her father nodded. “Aye, what’s important is if you’re happy and well cared for.”
She smiled and then glanced back to where Graeme was now standing by the bed. His gaze never left her and she was struck by the depth of emotion in his eyes.
Without looking back at her father, she said, “Oh aye, I am well cared for, Papa.”