Regan removed her cloak and laid it on a bench as she passed into the Great Hall. Her gown was still damp, but no one would likely notice in the excitement of her husbands homecoming. There wasn't aught to be done about her hair, but then, the dampness only made the thick mass of chestnut locks even wavier, and Roddy was well used to that. Regan doubted he'd note aught amiss in her appearance.
Drawing up before the hearth fire, she first took a seat in one of the high-backed, carved wooden chairs placed there. Finally, however, when it began to seem Roddy and the others were taking an interminable amount of time to come inside, she stood and began to make her way across the wide expanse of rush-covered floor. Before she could traverse even half of the room, however, the MacLarens walked in.
Regan jerked to a halt. Between the double file of clansmen, they carried what looked to be a length of tautly stretched plaid. For an instant, she stared at them in puzzlement. In the yet gloomy day, it was difficult to make out what they carried between them. Then, as the men drew nearer, Regan saw a body lying on the plaid.
She noted now that many of them were bloodied, their shirts torn, and some wore bandages. Fear stabbed through her. What had they been about last eve?
Her glance searched them more closely now, seeking but one face in the mass of men approaching her. Walter, his face twisted in anguish, strode along at the side of one of the men carrying an end of the plaid. Regan's hand went to her throat. Nowhere did she see Roddy.
And then she knew. They carried Roddy!
With a strangled cry, she ran to them, shoving her way past the men, crowding up to stand beside her husband. The men halted, and she could finally see what had been hidden before. Roddy lay there, pale and unmoving. She reached out, touched his cheek. It was cold.
"How?" Regan forced out the word. "How did this happen?"
No one replied.
"How?" she repeated on a thread of hysteria. "How?"
"He wanted to prove himself to ye," Walter said at long last, moving to her side. "He wanted to make amends by giving ye a fitting bridal gift. So we went on a wee ride into Campbell lands to lift a few fat cattle."
She turned a horrified gaze to Roddy's younger brother. "Ye . . . ye went reiving? On my wedding night?"
"It wasn't my idea, lass," Walter said. "I tried to talk Roddy out of it. Ye can ask any of these lads here. They'll vouch for me, they will."
"What happened?" Regan dragged in a shuddering breath. She gestured to the lifeless form of her husband. "How did this happen?"
"The Campbells weren't in a verra forgiving mood when they caught up with us. We found ourselves fighting for our lives. Finally, Roddy cried out to the Campbells that we yielded. That seemed to satisfy them, once we had thrown down all our weapons. I thought then that we might actually live through this, especially when the Campbell leader next ordered us to depart. Things got a bit confused then, in the darkness and all, and I lost track of Roddy. Soon thereafter, a shot rang out.
"The clouds momentarily parted and, in the moonlight, I saw Roddy fall. I wheeled about just in time to catch a flash of a silver pistol in the hand of the man who had just fired it. Fired a bullet into my brother's back." His mouth contorted in hatred. "The cowardly, cold-blooded knave!"
Time stilled. Blood pounded through Regan's skull until she thought she'd scream. All the while, though, a chill calm spread through her. Roddy was dead, and the man who had murdered him still lived.
"Who?" she gritted out the demand. "Who killed Roddy?"
"The laird of Balloch Castle, no less," Walter hissed. "None other than Iain Campbell himself."
Excerpted from WINGS OF MORNING: These Highland Hills, Book Two © Copyright 2011 by Kathleen Morgan. Reprinted with permission by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.