Highlander Most Wanted

By: Maya Banks

“Just Genevieve. Who I was is of no import, for I am that woman no longer.”

Teague’s eyebrows went up at the cryptic statement. Brodie and Aiden were equally taken aback.

“Well then Genevieve, it would appear as though you are acting as the spokesman for your clan. Take us within to meet the remainder of the McHugh clan, so I can decide what is to be done with them.”

Genevieve’s lips twisted in scorn, her eyes sparking with anger.

“Your arrogance is misplaced, good sir. These people had naught to do with the mistreatment of Eveline Montgomery. They are as much a victim of Ian’s and Patrick’s cowardice as Eveline herself.”

Brodie stepped forward, his lips curled into a snarl. “I doubt they were imprisoned in a dungeon and tormented with their fate. My sister was ill-used by Ian McHugh for years. He has long acted as her tormentor.”

Genevieve eyed Brodie with a level gaze. “There are many kinds of torment, sir. Nay, the clansmen were not imprisoned in a dungeon. Nay, they weren’t threatened or subjected to the kind of abuse Eveline was. I am sorry for her. I would not wish Ian McHugh on my worst enemy.”

Her face flashed with pain and a sorrow so deep and gut-wrenching that it bathed Bowen with discomfort. Her distress radiated like a beacon, and it was instinctive to comfort her in some way.

He extended his hand, his intention to touch her arm, but she shied instantly away and stared warily at him as she put careful distance between herself and him.

“Never think they have not suffered, though,” Genevieve continued. “They have long endured without a strong leader. Patrick was laird in name only. Ian was a bully who thrived on making others fear him. His own father feared him. Anyone who dared to speak out or disagree with Ian suffered dearly for the perceived slight.”

“Aye, I believe it,” Teague said grimly. “ ’Tis not a pretty picture that has been painted over the last while. We learned of his character from Eveline. Anyone who would torment a sweet, young lass at such a tender age is a monster who should be consigned to hell.”

“I have every confidence that is where he resides even now,” Genevieve said with quiet conviction.

“Take us to the others,” Bowen cut in, impatient to be done with the matter. “After meeting with your kin, I’ll decide what is to be done.”

“They are not my kin,” she said softly. “But I would see them treated fairly all the same.”

Perplexed by the mystery of Genevieve—just Genevieve—Bowen gestured toward the courtyard, indicating that Genevieve should proceed.

Ansel fled from Genevieve’s skirts and didn’t stop, disappearing into the keep up the steps from the courtyard.

Genevieve walked in a measured, unhurried pace, head held high, her dignity gathered round her like a cloak in winter. There was a serenity to her stance that seemed far too practiced, as though this were a defense mechanism, one with which she was well acquainted.

She was too calm, considering that she was facing an enemy army with vengeance and the thirst for blood on their minds. Most women—and men—would be terrified and likely pleading for mercy.

Not this woman.

She was regal and poised, almost as if she were the one granting them a favor by escorting them within. Bowen couldn’t detect a single quiver. Was she truly so unaffected, or was she merely a master at masking her emotions? Had her injury so numbed her to the judgment and reactions of others that she simply didn’t register all that went on around her?

Nay, he’d seen her initial response when he and his men had reacted to the shock of her scarred face. Though she’d quickly masked it, she’d been hurt and embarrassed by the collective horror that had arced through the assembled men.

It shamed him that he and his men had demonstrated such disrespect for a woman who was obviously gently born and bred. But the damage was done, and he couldn’t call back the reactions of himself or Teague and Eveline’s brothers.

The courtyard was barren. No sounds could be heard, not even in the distance. The wind kicked up, blowing cool where the sun had beat down on their heads.

When they mounted the steps into the keep, a nervous buzz could be heard from within. There was quiet weeping, and the low rumble of masculine voices offering words of comfort. But there was an edge, even in the men’s words, that couldn’t be mistaken.

They all awaited their fate.

Bowen stepped into the hall behind Genevieve, his expression grim and a sense of sadness gripping him. He had no desire to visit death and destruction upon the innocent. For the first time in a history steeped in violence, the future looked peaceful.

The Montgomerys had achieved at least a temporary truce with the Armstrongs—a genuine truce—sealed by Graeme’s marriage, and his love for Eveline Armstrong.

And the truth of it was that Bowen could find no fault with the Armstrongs for wanting only to protect Eveline. Tavis Armstrong seemed a fair, just man, as much as it pained Bowen to admit such.

When the McHugh clansmen caught sight of Genevieve, and then of the four men who strode in behind her, there was an instant barrage of noise. Babbling, the weeping intensified. Dark scowls adorned the men’s faces, and there were accusing glares from some of the women.