“Oh aye,” Eveline breathed. “So very much. He has been so wonderful to me.”
Her mother smiled and squeezed her hands. She leaned forward and kissed Eveline’s cheek and then pulled away, joy still shining on her face.
“ ’Tis obvious he loves you.”
Eveline didn’t immediately respond, but then she looked directly at her mother, her heart pounding all the while. “Aye, I believe he does. He has not said so, but I believe it to be with all my heart.”
Her mother nodded. “Aye, I believe it too. He’s so protective and tender with you, Eveline. ’Tis a glorious sight to behold.”
Eveline sighed. “ ’Tis the one time I truly resent my inability to hear.”
Her mother frowned. “Why so?”
“Because more than anything, I wish I could hear him say the words. ’Tis all I would ever ask again.”
Graeme stood quietly outside the door, listening as the wistful tone came through in Eveline’s words. It hurt him that she longed for the impossible, that she needed to hear those words so badly.
He considered the situation for a long moment as she and her mother continued to converse inside the chamber. Nay, she could not hear him through normal means. But somehow, he would find a way to make her hear him. He wanted there to be no doubt in her mind that he loved her more than it was possible to love any other.
He placed his hand on the closed chamber door and whispered softly, “I love you, Eveline. I’ll make you hear me if ’tis the last thing I do.”
“I’d like this to be a new beginning between our clans,” Tavis Armstrong said as goblets of ale were placed in front of Graeme, Bowen, and Teague as well as Brodie, Aiden, and Tavis.
“I’m listening,” Graeme said.
His brothers exchanged glances, and then they both looked to Graeme. Graeme recognized the enormity of this moment. The unthinkable was occurring thanks to a blue-eyed, golden-haired lass who’d stormed into his life and made him think of other things than revenge and hatred.
She’d taught him to love.
“Together we are a force like no other,” Tavis said.
Aiden nodded his agreement. Brodie was obviously in support of his father as well. He sat to the side without rancor or derision. He looked … eager … to make peace.
“No one, not even the crown, would have the power to defeat our combined forces,” Tavis continued. “ ’Tis not that I’m suggesting any such insurrection. I’m merely pointing out the benefits of a true alliance between us. Not one forced upon us.”
Graeme took in a deep breath, glanced toward his brothers one last time. They met his gaze and nodded almost imperceptibly. Then Graeme looked back at the Armstrong chieftain.
There was such gladness and relief in Tavis’s eyes that Graeme was taken aback.
“ ’Tis good that we can put decades of feuding behind us, not only for the sake of my daughter, but for your children and my sons’ children. Instead, we can build an unbreakable alliance that will ensure the future of both of our clans.”
Graeme nodded, peace settling deep into his heart. ’Twas the right decision. It was not one he could have made before Eveline. But he wanted his and Eveline’s children to grow up surrounded by the protection of both clans. He never wanted the likes of Ian McHugh to threaten all he held dear.
Tavis held out his hand to Graeme. “A new oath, one that is not blood sworn, but instead is given freely and without coercion.”
Graeme reached across the table to grasp the older man’s hand. Tavis held on, surprising strength in his grip.
“I want to be a part of my daughter’s life and to see the children of her womb. My grandchildren.”
Graeme didn’t misunderstand what Eveline’s father was truly asking. He was asking that he be allowed on Montgomery land. Freely. At will. He was asking that Graeme open his gates to the Armstrongs and that goodwill be forged from this point forward.
He was asking that they act as a … family.
I’m sorry, Da. I cannot continue in the path I have followed for the last years. I love Eveline. She means everything to me. More than revenge. More than punishing those I hold accountable for your death. Forgive me, please.