Siren of the Highlands – Kenna Kendrick

“How’s she doin’?” Fin asked. Fin watched Col, his cousin, best friend, and the current Baron of Westmarch Hall, pace the chamber, running his hands through his hair, both fear and rage etched upon his features at the same time. He finally stopped before the large hearth and stared silently into the flames for a long moment. Fin could feel the emotions radiating off his cousin and oldest friend like the heat from the fire. He was scared for Gillian as well. And he was just as angry as Col that somebody had tried to kill her. Finally, Col turned. “The physician’s seein’ some improvement. He thinks she’ll recover in time.” “That’s good news,” Fin said, feeling the first spark of hope he’d felt in days. “Aye,” Col nodded. “Tis good news.” “Then why dae ye look so grim?” A wry smile touched Col’s lips. “I suppose I daenae want tae jinx it b’fore she’s back on ‘er feet again.” Fin nodded.

“Aye. I s’pose I can understand that.” Col dropped down into one of the chairs at the large table near the hearth and poured out a couple glasses of mead for them then motioned for Fin to sit down. Fin walked over and took the seat across from him and raised his mug. They both took a long swallow in silence, the only sound in the room was the crackling and popping of the fire, and the air was thick with tension. Fin could see the myriad of emotions swirling across his cousin’s face but could only imagine how hard they were hitting him. He set his mug down hard, the hard thump echoing around the hall. “This is my fault,” he said, his voice choked with emotion. “Bollocks,” Fin said. “Tis nae yer fault.

Tis nae Gillian’s fault. Tis the fault of the bast’rd who done this.” “Twas my wine she drank,” Col pressed. “And by God, I’d rather twas me layin’ in that bed right now.” “She drank from yer mug,” Fin told him. “That daenae make it yer fault.” Col runs a hand over his face. “I ken,” he said. “But it feels like it.” “Aye.

I get it. But tis not.” They drained the last of their mugs, and Col refilled them immediately. “The Captain of yer personal guard shouldnae be drinkin’ on duty,” Fin said. “Then ye watch me drink,” Col said. “Fair ‘nough.” They sat at the table mostly in silence as Fin watched his cousin drink, a faraway look of anger and pain etched deeply into his features. “Ye should get some sleep, Cousin,” Fin said. “When’s the last time ye got some rest?” “We need tae find who did this,” Col said. “I cannae sleep until we ‘ave that bast’rd’s ‘ead on a pike.

” Fin nodded. “We’ll get ‘im, Col. But ye arenae goin’ tae dae anybody any good if ye’re dead on yer feet.” Col swallowed down the last of his ale and reached for the pitcher but seemed to think better of it and withdrew his hand. Instead, Col turned and looked at him, pursing his lips. “I need ye tae look intae it, Fin,” he said. Fin sat back in his seat. He was good in a fight and could always be counted on to wade into a battle. That’s what made him the perfect bodyguard for Col – he was practically fearless. But when it came to something like Col was asking him to do, Fin felt horribly out of his depth.

He did not feel capable of doing what he wanted. He was a man of action, not a man of critical thought. And perhaps that was a flaw in his character, but he was always more comfortable with a sword in his hand. He knew that, of the two of them, Col was the smarter one. Col was the one who came up with all of their plans and did the thinking. Fin was the one who, when the action started, was always the first one to charge in. As a result, he felt woefully ill-equipped to be the one leading an investigation into who poisoned Gillian – into who had been trying to poison Col. “Cousin, I daenae ken I’m the right man for that job,” Fin said. Col cocked his head. “Why nae?” Fin finally reached for the pitcher and poured himself half a mug of ale.

He swallowed it down, quenching his suddenly parched throat. He did not talk about his feelings well, and he certainly did not like admitting to his shortcomings. Not even to his cousin and most trusted friend. But if he could not speak to Col about these things, who could he speak to about them? Fin cleared his throat. “B’cause I’m nae smart ‘enough tae dae it, Col. I ken we both ken that.” Col sat back in his seat and looked at him long and hard. He ran a hand over his face, and an expression of sorrow crossed his features. He raised his head and looked at Fin again. “Is that th’ way I’ve made ye feel all these years?” he asked.

Fin shook his head. “Ye never made me feel that way. Tis not like ye were doin’ nothin’ tae make me feel dumb.” “Well, ye arenae dumb, Fin,” he said. “And yer a bleedin’ idiot if ye think so.” The irony of the statement sunk in, and they looked at each other for a moment, then burst into laughter. It was short-lived, though, and the laughter faded, leaving them sitting there staring at one another. “There isnae anyone I trust more,” Col said, finally breaking the silence between them. “I need tae ken who did this. And I need tae kill ‘em.

” “Aye. Ye need their ‘eads on pikes,” Fin replied. “I ‘ave nae problem with that.” Col held his gaze for a long moment. “I need you tae find ‘em, Fin. There is nobody I’d trust more tae dae the job and dae it right.” Fin sighed. “And who’ll watch yer back while I’m runnin’ all over tryin’ tae find a needle in the bleedin’ haystack? “What ‘bout Hollis?” “If I’m gonna dae this, I’d prefer tae take Hollis with me.” Col nodded. “I understand,” he said.

“Then I’ll ‘ave Alastair–” “Alastair?” Fin cut him off. “He’s a whelp.” “A whelp ye’ve been trainin’,” Col said. “I’ve seen ‘im ‘andle a blade’n he’s good.” Fin nodded. It was true. He had taken Alastair under his wing and had been training him. He was a good kid and was definitely capable. But he was still green. Raw.

He had a long way to go before Fin would be ready to allow Alastair to shadow Col and charge him with keeping his cousin safe. “Aye. He’s good,” Fin agreed. “But he’s nae ready.” Col sighed. “I’m not gonna be leavin’ the keep until Gillian is on ‘er feet again,” he argued. “I’ll be safe ‘nough with Alastair at me back.” Fin leveled his gaze at him. “If that were true, you wouldnae be sendin’ me out tae find the man who tried tae kill ye.” Col chuckled.

“Fair point, ye bleedin’ arse,” he said. “But Alastair’s a good lad’n good with a blade. I’m comfortable ‘nough with him watchin’ me back.” The way he said it told Fin the matter had been settled, and he was officially tasked with finding the would-be assassin while Alastair watched his cousin’s back. Fin wasn’t comfortable with the arrangement. There was still a lot Fin needed to teach Alastair before he’d be ready for the assignment he was being given. But Fin knew Col well enough to know that when his mind was made up, there was little he could do to change it. His cousin was more stubborn than a mule when he got his mind set on something. “All right then,” Fin said. “I s’pose ye’ve got yer mind made up.

” “I dae,” Col said. “Like I told ye, there’s nobody I trust more.” The doors to the chamber burst open, and one of the household pages came rushing in, his cheeks flushed and out of breath, carrying a sealed letter in his hand. “My Laird,” the page said. “A message ‘as arrived from York.” “Thank you,” Col said as he took the letter and broke the seal on the envelope. York. Gillian’s father was the Duke of York, and there was a time when Col and Fin were on the opposite side of a great divide with the Duke. Fin and his cousin had raided the Duke’s supply carts for more than a year some time back and had eventually gone to war with his brother and son. Having saved James’ dukedom, he had built this castle for them out on the Western March, halfway between York and their clan lands in Scotland.

It was meant to serve as a symbolic bridge between the two lands and their two people. It was not without its detractors, though. Not without its share of controversy. And Col had ended up with enemies on both sides of the border. But time — and of course, his marriage to Gillian and the children they’d had — had managed to heal the wounds between the Duke and Col. And for that, Fin was grateful. After years of fighting, war, and surviving on the scraps of their criminal endeavors, it was nice to have some stability. Security. It had been nice getting used to a life without war. “What is it?” Fin asked.

Col’s face darkened. “The Duke was poisoned,” he said, his voice grim. Ice water flowed through Fin’s veins. That was the last thing he had been expecting to hear. The implications of it were even direr than Fin had thought. “Is he–” Col shook his head. “Nay. The Duke lives.” “Thank God in ‘eaven.” “Aye,” Col said, his voice tight.

“But ye need tae get tae York. Ye need tae look in on the Duke’n see if ye can find who did this.” Fin sighed but nodded his head. “Aye. On me way.”

.

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