Heart of the Highlands Ch. 03bysimply_cyn©
Colin had dressed up for this feast but not of his own choosing. Lydia had fussed over him for an hour. He wore a black silk tunic with a silver lining and matching accents. It buttoned up the front and the neck of it laced over his chest. She tried to talk him out of wearing the gauntlets but his glare alone had made her back down from the whole proposition. He wasn't comfortable with anyone suspecting anything wrong, let alone seeing it. It had a tendency to make people recoil like he was leprous or something and he didn't like the feeling at all.
It turned out that the feast being hosted by his house was not just ANY hunting feast. It was the betrothal feast of Robbie and Juliana, which just made Colin's mood dark and sullen. He'd never liked big get-togethers anyway. Knowing he would be seeing Juliana with Robbie only made matters worse. These were the thoughts that haunted him as he stood alone in the great hall, watching the festivities unfold.
Juliana felt like she was being torn in two different directions when she found out where the dinner was going to be held that evening. "Where?? The Mackenzie's??? But we've never had dealings with them before!" she had protested, her only concern at that point being both Colin and the possibility of another encounter between he and her betrothed.
To make matters worse, here she was, dressed in her finest and looking every inch the way a well-bred Scottish lady should and on the arm of a man who she could barely speak two words to without spitting out of anger instead of the one man that she wanted to be with who was now forced to watch. This had to be hell in its purest form!
Her mother had sensed that something had been terribly wrong, especially after the lecture her father had given her this morning when she finally had returned home and the announcement of where her engagement feast would be held. At the moment, she was doing the best she could to avoid Robbie at all costs and do as little damage as possible to Colin's pride.
Colin Mackenzie stood with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes were narrowed almost dangerously upon Robbie's back but the young man had yet to notice him. He had seen the beautiful Juliana earlier in the evening. She had looked like a princess in all her finery, which suited him just fine. He rather liked women who were easy on the eyes and Juliana was easier than most.
Robbie Kincaid was in high spirits, not to mention well on his way to a hang-over in the morning with all his drinking and celebrating. Not only would he inherit one of the greatest fortunes in the Scotland highlands but he had been promised the hand of the one woman that he knew would rather spit nails at him than be held in his arms. That was fine with him ... he rather liked a challenge and looked forward to the night that he could tame the wild rebellious side of the beautiful Scottish maiden.
Tearing his attention from his friends, he began to turn about looking for Juliana now. She had made it clear that she didn't want anything to do with him, even on their betrothal feast but he had ever intention of taking just a little taste from her lips tonight. When he turned, what he found instead were the piercing eyes of a man that seemed vaguely familiar but Robbie couldn't quite place him ... yet.
Colin's gaze met Robbie's and he just smirked a bit. The man was positively impossible. He hadn't had more than perhaps a few ales but liquor did him no good it seemed.
Pretending to take no heed of the young man, Colin turned his attention to his sisters who were flirting shamelessly with some of the guests. Lydia had always been a tease. She now had a young man completely wrapped around her finger and was dangling him joyously. The man didn't seem at all abashed by the idea either
Robbie shrugged off the man, whoever he was and began to walk through the crowd mingling in search of his bride to be.
Meanwhile, Juliana was sticking to the outskirts of the crowd, keeping her distance with the help of a few select friends, including Lucinda. "I saw Colin earlier," Lucinda whispered, leaning close to Juliana's ear as she kept a close lookout for the whereabouts of Robbie. "He is devastatingly handsome, I must say," she teased with a giggle.
Juliana glanced to her friend, wanting to tell her exactly how handsome she knew him to be but ducked behind a pillar on the outskirts of the dance floor as Robbie sauntered up towards Lucinda, demanding to know Juliana's whereabouts.
"I know you know where she is," he slurred slightly, his dark eyes narrowing some. "She can not hide from me all night," he growled, slightly pushing the girl out of his way as if he half expected to find Juliana hiding behind her skirts. Glaring at the girl, he added before striding off, "You tell her that the more she runs, the harder it will be."
"You know, threatening your bride-to-be is no way to win the woman's heart."
Colin stood behind Robbie. He'd followed the pattern the man was making toward Juliana. "And it's distasteful for a man to use a messenger for such threats. Or are you too much of a coward to speak to her yourself?"
Robbie turned towards the voice, a slow rage spreading over his face as Lucinda backed away, turning her head to see Juliana peeking out from behind a pillar. At that point Robbie suddenly realized who the man was and straightened his stance as he glowered at Colin.
"Thinking of coming to her rescue again, are you Mackenzie? She is mine ... and I'll do with her what I will and there's not one damn thing you can do about it," he added with a smirk and took a long swig of the ale in his tankard.
"She's not yours until the knots are tied about your wrists and the contract is signed. Until then, she's a free woman. You can't do a thing with her except the common thing we civilized folk like to call courting. You should try it sometime," Colin almost sneered. "It can prove to be worth your time and effort. The ladies swoon at the idea."
He knew by now that Robbie was far too drunk to really know what he was saying. The whole idea of getting the man riled up seemed pretty fun.
Robbie slammed his tankard down on the table next to him, startling a few of the guests close to them. "She's mine, by god and she will learn her place. There's no rescuing her from what will happen, Mackenzie. You'd do best to mind your own business," he warned, not really caring that his voice was getting louder and more slurred.
Colin just grinned as he watched the bigger man approach him. Instinctively he took a defensive stance; he'd dealt with countless drunken guards in the Tower. It had become a sport to see just how many he could take on at once when he was healthy enough to do so. One drunken Scotsman would be no problem for him.
"Apparently it IS my business as the announcement is being done in my home. And, as I said ... she's not yours until your wedding day." And then he added, with a wry grin on his face, knowing that the following words would sting a bit, "When is that, by the way? Set any date yet?"
Robbie's face darkened immediately at the man's words mostly because of the fact that Juliana didn't want a thing to do with the betrothal or setting a date and he was eager to "seal the deal" and get her in the marriage bed. Tonight was just the icing on the cake with her practically ignoring him all night and it seemed as if this smug Mackenzie knew exactly what buttons to push.
Robbie made a fist and pulled back suddenly to take a swing at Colin's face with a warning growl, "I see you didn't get enough of this the other day."
Colin ducked and weaved to the side as the first swing was taken. "Let's see, Robbie ... who won that little tussle? Was hardly any challenge to it at all."
When Colin ducked, Robbie stumbled forward, knocking over a small table with an assortment of drinks, the loud clatter drawing more attention to them from the mingling guests in the hall. Juliana knew she had to do something or there would be a mess that she might just have to explain. Pushing past Lucinda, she got between Colin and Robbie just as Robbie went to grab for Colin with a cry of rage.
"I beg you to stop," she said, holding up a hand that found itself against Robbie's chest as he stopped and glared first at Colin and then the girl between them. "Is this any way to repay the kindness of the Mackenzie clan for their hospitality?" she added with a lift of her brow towards her betrothed.
Colin admired Juliana for stepping in, though he was sorely disappointed that the fight had stopped so quickly. It had been rather enjoyable to goad the Kincaid heir into fighting him again.
Taking Robbie by the arm, Juliana tried to steer him clear of Colin with her soft voice. "I believe we are wanted for a dance," she said as Robbie gave in and pulled her closer. As they walked away, she dared a glance back at Colin, her eyes speaking volumes that she couldn't give voice to. But only someone looking closely would see exactly what that message was ... the desire she had to be with him was as clear as a sign that had been tacked on her forehead for all to see.
Colin watched as Juliana led the Kincaid away and he allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief. He hadn't really intended to stir a fight, and the rush had caught up with him. Glancing over, he noticed Lucinda out the corner of his eyes and offered a hand toward her with a smile. "Care to dance?"
Lucinda stood for a moment, not sure that she had heard the handsome Highlander correctly and then smiled, graciously slipping her hand into his. "I would be most honored, kind Sir," she said in her sweetest melodic voice.
Colin led her forward to the dance floor. One thing he had learned well in a house full of females was how to dance properly. Gently laying his hand upon the girl's waist, they were swept up into the melody of the music soon enough. "Pray tell Miss, what is your name?"
Lucinda danced beautifully in his embrace; her blonde hair pulled back in traditional combs and the back left to sway down her backside, much akin to the way most every maiden's hair was decorated for the evening. "Lucinda MacLeod," she offered with a smile and saw Juliana trying to keep as much distance between her and Robbie on the dance floor.
"And ... how long have you known the Lady Juliana?" Colin never seemed once to take his attention from the girl he held in his arms as they danced, though he knew everything around him and kept track of it silently as if he were attempting to evade being caught in a snare.
Lucinda's head tilted a bit as the smile curled upwards on her lips. There was that inward woman's intuition that caught hold of Colin Mackenzie's interest in Juliana and she held onto that hope for her best friend. It was tearing her apart to see her friend so unhappily betrothed to the Kincaid heir.
"Juliana and I grew up together. Our mothers were best friends."
"I see ..." Colin commented, glancing for a moment toward Robbie and Juliana then back to Lucinda. He didn't know where to go from here. The woman he was beginning to fall for was betrothed with a wedding date to be set sometime soon. How could he get past that? If a contract had been drawn, there was very little he could do.
He had never known he would find a woman he could care for but he was finding that rather quickly in the lovely Juliana. But ... she was beyond his grasp.
Lucinda followed Duncan's gaze towards Juliana and then smiled as their eyes met again. "Forgive me for being so bold but it is in my nature and I pray that you are not offended by my prying."
She stopped her words momentarily as they danced effortlessly across the floor before adding quietly, "I have seen the looks both you and Juliana have given one another since the day at the fairgrounds."
Colin met Lucinda's eyes again. "It IS bold but ... yes. I've found a liking for Juliana but that doesn't really matter now. She is to be wed."
Lucinda shrugged her slender shoulders with a kind of carefree manner that was contagious in its own way, her blue eyes twinkling a bit as they danced. "Arrangements are made and arrangements are broken for various reasons. One never quite knows what is in store when determination sets in ..."
Then she offered an encouraging smile to the handsome young man before glancing back to Juliana as she held her drunken dance partner as far away as possible. "T'would be a shame to see a beautiful girl like Juliana stuck with such a brute as Robbie Kincaid."
Colin looked into the girl's eyes with a slight smile. "Are you saying I should uproot, or at least attempt to uproot the agreement between the Kincaids and the McKays?" He spoke in hushed tones as the dance floor was getting fuller as the music played on.
Lucinda smiled back at her dance partner, her own voice lowering as they spoke about such things. "I would never suggest such a thing, of course. But if one was to do so and perhaps show Juliana's father another agreement that would also include his sole daughter's happiness, I would think that he would be elated to bargain elsewhere."
Colin thought about that a moment. The Mackenzie's and the McKay's had nothing to do with one another ... until tonight. Or perhaps there had been and it just hadn't been publicized. A grin began to take form on his face. He would have to speak with his father about such things.
"I thank you, Lucinda. You are a wonderful dancer," Colin commented with a hopeful grin. As the music came to a close he spun her around and posed with her at the final chord, leaning in to kiss her cheek. "We should dance again sometime soon. It's refreshing to not have my feet stepped on at every turn," he added with a grin and a wink.
Lucinda laughed gently, her hands resting on his upper arms as they shared a secret behind the twinkle in both of their eyes. "T'was my pleasure, Sir Colin Mackenzie. I pray that you might have luck in the hunt that is to begin on the morrow," she added as they pulled away and went their separate ways, knowing he would know she meant a far different hunt that the one that many would participate in on the following morning.