She turned to see Brodie approaching, his expression grim, but it lightened in relief when he saw her sitting on her rock.
Brodie was the one she’d most miss if she was truly to wed the Montgomery chieftain. She could barely breathe for wanting to cry and her throat knotted uncontrollably.
He said something as he approached, but it was lost on her because his mouth was shielded by a limb. When she continued to stare at him, he made a show of letting out a sigh and then sat on the rock beside her, just as he’d done so many times before.
Brodie always knew where to find her. Knew all her secret hiding places. There wasn’t anywhere she could go that he didn’t already know of.
He reached for her hand, swallowing it up in his much larger one, and he squeezed. His lips started to move again, and she strained forward so she could see what it was he said.
“You’re needed in the keep, little chick.”
She loved that he called her that and she didn’t even know why. It was an endearment, almost always said with an indulgent smile. Only today, there was no smile. Only deep desolation in his eyes and lines of worry etched into his brow.
Not wanting to cause him any more upset, she put her other hand in his and waited for him to stand and pull her up beside him. It was better if she not act as though she knew. Perhaps she could play dumb about the entire thing. Surely if the king knew how unsuitable she was for marriage, he wouldn’t sanction such a thing.
That thought cheered her considerably as she walked beside her brother back toward the keep. Her father had always said that the king was a fair and just ruler. That he’d brought peace to the highlands by signing a treaty with England.
If his representative was to be in attendance for the event, then surely after seeing her, he would call a halt to the marriage and report back to the king her unsuitability for the role assigned to her.
Eveline tried to remain calm as Brodie led her into the great hall, though it was hard when her heart pounded furiously against her chest.
Her father was pacing before the hearth and her other brother, Aiden, sprawled in a chair at the large wooden table, rage burning in his eyes as his foot tapped a sharp staccato on the floor.
Eveline honed in on her mother and father, wanting desperately to know what it was they said. She pried her hand from Brodie’s and moved so she could better see.
“Tavis, you cannot allow this to stand!”
Eveline’s father grasped her mother’s shoulders, holding them tightly. He stared back at her with tortured, angry eyes.
“The king has decreed it, Robina. I cannot naysay him.”
Robina yanked away, turning more toward Eveline, her eyes red and puffy, distress radiating from her in waves. Then her gaze lighted on Eveline and her expression grew even more stricken.
She hurried forward, putting an arm around Eveline’s shoulders, squeezed her tightly, and then bore her forward. Eveline could feel her mother trembling against her, and she worked even harder to keep her own countenance serene as they approached her father.
Tavis lifted his hand, and it shook noticeably as he put it gently to Eveline’s cheek. Unable to stand the grief in his eyes, Eveline turned her face into his palm and rubbed.
“My baby. My most precious gift. Our king has turned against us.”
He dropped his hand down and put it to the back of his neck, then turned away. Eveline frowned, not wanting to miss any of what he might be saying.
“You must beseech him, Tavis,” Robina said, touching her husband’s arm to turn him back. “Perhaps he knows not of Eveline’s condition.”
Tavis turned back, his brows drawn together, the blackness of his scowl reminding Eveline of a spring storm.
“How could he not? He was here just months after Eveline was stricken with illness. He saw that she was … changed. He offered his sympathy that she would never be able to make an advantageous marriage or have children of her own. And now he’s sending her to our worst enemy as a sacrificial lamb meant to force peace between us?”
Eveline felt the blood drain from her face and she hoped her mother didn’t notice her flinch at her father’s words.