Fourteen Years Later
“Ye must pull the breath from here,” Isobel said, motioning to her diaphragm. “Breathe from here, and then everything that comes out as ye sing is much more powerful.”
Lily nodded, trying to follow her aunt’s instruction. She was tall, taller now than Isobel at nineteen years of age, and she had long desired to be a bard, ever since she realized that she too could sing.
Isobel smiled at Lily’s nervous face. She knew that just how nerve racking it was to sing at yer first large gathering, but Lily had the skills to do so. She just needed to believe in herself.
“Try it, now. Sing the first few notes after breathing like I taught ye.”
Lily took a deep breath, her hand on her stomach, and then she started her song. Isobel watched proudly and clapped.
“Ye are perfect, Lily!” She rushed forward and pulled the young girl into a tight hug. “Everyone will love ye. I just ken it. Ye dinnae have to worry.”
Lily smiled and blushed. “Och, Aunt Isobel, I dinnae think I will be able to stop me knees shakin’ enough for me to be able to sing properly. There will be so many people there, all watchin’ me.”
Isobel grinned. “And there will be one particular boy there watchin’ ye, who I think is makin’ ye the most nervous.”
Lily blushed again and looked away. “Aunt Isobel, how do ye always ken such things.”
“I make it me business to ken these kinds of things, dear niece. How else would I be able to learn about yer heart’s desires since ye and me children like to keep things locked so tightly away.”
Lily nodded. “Well, I just wish that ye dinnae ken about this. Now I will really be embarrassed. Ye cannae tell Uncle Ryen or Bram.”
Isobel chuckled. “Why? Because they will wish to batter him to the ground?”
“Aye,” Lily said with a scowl, “they will scare every man away that I look upon, and then nay man will want me!”
“What is this about men and wanting?” Mary said as she entered. Time had passed, but it had only served to make Mary look both statelier and more elegant.
“Nothin’, Maither,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. “I am simply nervous about the celebration this evenin’. I willnae be able to sing for all these eyes upon me!”
Mary chuckled and smiling at Isobel, she wrapped one arm about her daughter’s shoulder. “Now, just think about what it was like the first time ye heard Isobel sing. Ye thought it was so wonderful and exciting. Think how ye could be that for some other little girl. Let that give ye strength.”
“A brilliant idea!” Isobel added, and then turned to the sound of running feet that hurriedly entered the hall.
“Maither!” the twin girls cried in unison. “This is the first celebration we are allowed to go to, and we have nothin’ to wear! I ken that we will be laughed out of the Clans.”
Isobel and Mary glanced at each other and then burst into laughter. “I think that is a little bit extreme, Me Dears.” Isobel took the hands of her thirteen-year-old daughters. “Daria, Ariane, dinnae be so foolish.” She pointed to Lily looking beautiful and bright.
“This evenin’ is about yer cousin, of course. For she will make her singin’ debut.” Darla and Ariane smiled and took their cousin’s hands.
“Ye will make a wonderful singer, Lily. We just ken it,” Darla said.
“Aye. All the boys will be watchin’ ye when ye sing tonight,” Ariane added with a wink, only making Lily blush a little more.
“Come now,” Isobel said. “Let us go search out the right gowns for ye to wear this evenin’. I ken that it is special for ye too. The first time allowed to spend the whole time at the celebration!”
Shrieking with laughter, the two girls hurried up the stairwell to their chambers, and Isobel followed after. She nearly bumped into Ryen at the top of the stairwell, and he drew her into his arms, after laying a kiss upon her lips.
“Me Love,” he said. “I barely saw the two madwomen we call our daughters. They ran by here so quickly, it was like a blur.”
Isobel laughed. “Aye, they are all in a rush, desperate to make a good impression this evenin’ at the harvest celebration.”
“Och, I see. Ye are off to assist them?”
“Aye. We mean to find the most suitable gowns for them to wear. As ye can imagine, their minds are filled with young men.”
Ryen scowled, and it made Isobel chuckle. “That time will soon be comin’, Ryen. And it has already come for Lily, ye ken. She is nineteen.”
“Come already? What do ye mean?” he looked down at Lily in the hall, a worried expression on his face.
Isobel laid a soft hand on his chest. “Calm yerself. I mean only to say that young men will soon come to call. And ye as her Uncle and Bram as her Stepfather must nae make such a mess out of it. Ye were that age once. Ye ken already what it is like.”
“Aye,” he said in a low voice. “I ken exactly what men are thinkin’, and I daenae wish me Daughters or me Niece to be victim to it.”
“Victim?” Isobel laughed. “Surely ye had the same thoughts when ye met me and look where we are now. Happily married. A family.”
“That was different,” Ryen grumbled, and Isobel laughed again, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek.
“Just behave yerself this evenin’, Me Love. I am off to assist our madwomen, as ye call them.”
Isobel pulled away laughing, and Ryen drew her back, a scowl still on his face, but he leaned down and kissed her, deeply this time.
“And what was that for?” Isobel said, feeling the familiar tingles of pleasure and desire in her stomach.
“Because ye are wonderful,” he said, and with a slight smile he walked away, leaving Isobel shaking her head after him.
Hours later, Isobel held tightly to Ryen’s hand as they watched Lily take up her position at the side of the room. Eyes were turned to her, and Isobel tried to catch eyes with her niece to encourage her, but Lily was distracted elsewhere.
Isobel followed Lily’s gaze, and she could see a handsome young warrior in the crowd, watching her as if his life depended on it. She smiled but was sure not to point him out to Ryen. Lily took a breath, just as Isobel taught her to, and began her song.
Isobel closed her eyes at the sound of Lily’s melodious voice flowing through the hall. When she started, the Clan’s people had still been murmuring quietly, the merriment of the harvest celebration a little hard to quiet, but after Lily began, a hush fell over the group.
Everyone’s eyes were on Lily, and when Isobel turned toward her again, she could see a smile growing on her face.
At least her nerves have passed. She is perfect.
Once Lily finished, everyone clapped and cheered, and Ryen clapped loudest of all. Even Darla and Ariane’s cheers of delight were not loud enough to cover over the sound he made. He turned to Isobel with a proud look on his face.
“Ye did this?” he asked. “Ye have taught her to be as perfect as yerself?”
Isobel shrugged. “I taught her what I kenned. That is all. She is a talented young woman, Ryen. She has it inside of her.”
Ryen shook his head in disbelief, and he stood up, ready to speak to Lily when the both of them saw a young man approach her. Ryen stiffened, and Isobel grabbed at his arm. She also saw Mary grabbing at Bram’s arm to keep him in place.
“Sit, Ryen, let the man give Lily his congratulations. She deserves the honor and praise. Ye ken that well enough.”
Ryen sat down, and she pulled him a little closer against her, but his eyes were still on the young man and Lily.
“Has so much time passed already, Me Love? That we must think of our own children and family findin’ partners and marryin’. Leavin’ us?”
“Soon,” Isobel said, “soon.” She smoothed her hand down his arm. “But it has felt as if nay time has passed at all, at least nae for me.”
The celebration began anew around them, but Isobel couldn’t hear it because Ryen had turned his gaze to hers. He was older now but not less handsome by any means.
“Nae for me either, Me Love, Me Angel.” He smiled, lifting his hand to caress her cheek. “We have walked by each other’s sides all these years, and I have nae wanted anyone else but ye.”
“Nor I,” Isobel said, blushing a little, remembering what it was like to feel his touch for the first time.
“Now,” Ryen said, clearing his throat. “I daenae ken if ye mean to distract me from watchin’ Lily, but I daenae care. I will kiss ye anyway.”
Isobel opened her mouth to speak, but there was no time as Ryen crushed her to him and kissed her hard, reminding her of the time they had first made love, so furiously and feverishly. It heated her blood and made tingles go all the way down to her toes.
He pulled away and chuckled at the shocked look on Isobel’s face. “Forgive me for nae always kissin’ ye like that, Lass. Now, who is the one who’s distracted.”
Isobel laughed. “Ye are a wicked man, Ryen Harper, but I love ye.” Not caring how it looked, reveling in her own good fortune, Isobel pulled Ryen toward her again, not satisfied with just one kiss.
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