Three Years Later
There was a sound in the distance, drilling into her sleep. Elena turned onto her back, throwing her arm over her shoulder to will herself back into her slumber. But the sound persisted, a pounding echo that seemed to be drawing closer. Elena scowled, trying to block it out.
The squeal was familiar. It was a voice she was accustomed to hearing when she’d lived at Camden Castle, but it had been a while since she’d last been subject to its piercing shriek. Elena opened her eyes, staring blankly at the ceiling above her as she listened to the pounding—which she now knew were footsteps drawing near.
“Oh, heavens,” she murmured.
Chaos exploded into her room. The door was banged open with such force that it ricocheted off the adjoining wall with a resounding boom. Elena sighed again as she watched all her siblings pour into the room, swarming her bed.
Catriona and Maxwell leaped on top, making Elena jump a bit. Ayrin rushed around the bed, leaned over Elena’s frame, and slapped them both on the arm. “Ye cannae do that!” she exclaimed. “What if she had fallen off the bed? Would ye two take responsibility for what happens next?”
“Look at her,” Maxwell said. In the three years, he’d grown, he’d developed quite the smart mouth, which he usually aimed at Ayrin. It was clear he liked making her nag him. In many ways, it was similar to the dynamic between Catriona and Victor.
“She is with child, Maxwell,” Ayrin scolded. She, and the rest of his sisters, only called him by his full name when they were severe with him. “Ye could have serious cause damage.”
Maxwell sagged at that, looking a bit contrite. Fiona rushed to his aide, coming to stand next to Ayrin. She flipped her heavy braid over her shoulder, put her hands on her hips, and said, “Ye arenae doin’ much better, ye ken, stretchin’ over her stomach like that.”
Ayrin’s eyes went wide, and she pulled away instantly. Had Elena not been so groggy from sleep, she might have laughed. Instead, she sat up and accepted the pillow Mary graciously handed to her. “I hope ye are all aware that dawn has barely broken yet?” she asked.
“Aye, we are,” Mary said. She chose to sit dutifully in the chair by the bed, folding her arms in her lap. “Which is exactly why we made the trip to come here a day early. We wanted to spend every hour we could with ye before we returned.”
Elena sighed. In truth, she should have seen this coming when the entire family, excluding her father, visited the castle in time for dinner. Grant’s parents had been full of glee to have so many people there at once, and though Elena had been happy to see them, she knew it was only a matter of time before they disturbed her peace.
Especially considering it was the day of her birth.
She folded her arms over her rounded belly, ignoring the anxious look Ayrin gave her. Of course, Ayrin would be the one to fuss over her in her state, even more, so than Mary’s kindness would allow. “Where is Grant?” she asked.
“He is organizin’ yer birthday feast,” Mary responded.
“I told him that wasnae necessary,” Elena murmured.
“Aye, ye did,” Catriona agreed with a nod. “And I’m happy he ignored ye. Ye have a bad habit of not celebratin’ yerself.”
“Because there is nae need to,” Elena argued.
“Ye would always get so excited when it’s Max and me birthday,” Fiona cut in. She’d been making it a habit of sitting in on their conversations now and could easily keep up. She was a rather smart child. “So, why arenae ye excited about yer own?”
Catriona tilted her head to the side. “She has a point, Elena.”
“Aye, aye, I will be doin’ whatever ye all wish anyhow.” Elena tucked her hair behind her ear, easing herself out of bed. “Do with me what ye will.”
“Ye heard that Ayrin?” Catriona drawled as she got out of the bed and came to Elena’s side. Ayrin rolled her eyes.
Elena resisted the urge to smile. She could admit that she was in a foul mood and her siblings waking her didn’t make her feel much better. But after listening to their usual remarks, she had a little hope for the day already. Maxwell led the charge with Fiona by his side. They held hands as they walked, even though they were older and wiser now, growing into themselves. Elena felt a pang watching them.
As the conversation struck up around her, she tuned them out, resting a hand on her belly. She’d been trying with Grant for so long to bear a child, but they hadn’t been blessed until now. And as the months went by, Elena had been in a constant state of fear, wondering if this chance would be ripped away from them. Even though they were so close, nearly nine months with child, she couldn’t help the urge to return to the safety of her bed. She didn’t want to risk doing anything that might endanger the child.
But she didn’t want to worry her siblings, and so she kept it to herself. Elena knew that Grant would be able to sense her thoughts, however. He’d always been able to, and if she wore a bright smile today, it would not make a difference. So she tried to make herself relax, if not for her, then to simply ease Grant’s concern.
Upon arriving at the dining hall, Elena drew to a halt. Every inch of the table was laden with food, meats and stews, and bread that they would never be able to finish. Standing around waiting for her arrival was the previous Laird McDonald and Angela and Peter and Boyle, who had become guards of the castle. Victor was there as well, deep in conversation with Boyle, to Elena’s surprise.
But her focus was on Grant. Standing at the head of the table, he was the first to notice her arrival—and he bore the widest grin.
“Ye are out of yer mind,” she murmured as she approached. She was accustomed to feasts, but never one quite this size. And for her birthday, no less.
“Nay, I am givin’ me lovin’ wife exactly what she deserves,” Grant responded as he slid his arms around the small of her back. He held her gently, considering the stomach she bore, but it didn’t stop him from kissing her deeply. Elena felt tugs of passion within her, but she tamped it down, remembering that they were not alone.
The others were all looking—except for Maxwell, who was already trying to see what he would pounce on first. Elena swallowed, leaning into Grant’s hold. “I daenae ken what to say,” she said finally. “This is all so much that I—”
To her horror, she felt as if she was about to cry. Elena lifted her hand to lips, trying to hold back her tears, but it was too late. They had all seen.
“I told ye she would like it!” Angela exclaimed happily. “That only goes to show that ye should all listen to me from now on.”
“Just go alon’ with her everyone,” said Grant’s father. “She willnae stop if ye daenae.”
Laughter echoed in the dining hall, and it helped Elena keep the tears at bay. “Thank ye,” she said when she found her voice again. “I’m so grateful for all of ye. I ken I have been a bit of a grump for a while with the bairn comin’, but I’m happy that ye all made an effort to come and make sure that I enjoy me da—”
Elena broke off, eyes going wide. Water trickled down her leg, spreading between her toes. Slowly, she looked down to see a puddle at her feet.
“Elena—” Grant seemed to be in as much shock as she was. He stared at the puddle, and then their eyes met.
“Did ye…” Victor staggered forward. Even he seemed too surprised to act. “Are ye—”
Dazed, Elena nodded at him. “I think the bairn is comin’.”
The McIan sisters started up in a flurry. Victor rushed to her side. Grant was attempting to scoop her into his arms, desperate to rush her to the nearest room. Cameron Flanagan was trying to calm down his wife, who was now ecstatic at the act that she would finally have her grandchild. Maxwell and Fiona shrank back from the excitement, clearly understanding that this was somewhere they did not need to be. Peter and Boyle lured them away, though Elena didn’t know what they said.
Everything moved so fast and yet slow enough for her to see it all. Elena couldn’t respond to any of it. People were shouting around her, barking orders at each other. Grant stayed by her side, deciding not to whisk her into his arms but steered her toward the door.
“Mrs. Carla,” Elena murmured. She was the woman who was proficient in aiding with childbirth. “Fetch her.”
“Victor is already doin’ that.” Grant’s voice was steady, oddly calm. Despite all that was happening around them, he moved with an efficiency she envied.
“Grant—” Elena grasped his arm. Fear was already rising in her. She would fear not the pain, nor the long hours that were ahead of her, but for the child she would bear. If nothing else, she prayed that it would be healthy.
“I ken,” Grant said with ease. He pressed a kiss to her temple, never breaking stride. “Everythin’ will go well. I promise ye.”
She recited those words in her head back to their bedroom. Grant eased her inside then closed the door on the others, ignoring their protest. In the quiet of the room, he helped her to the bed, tucking pillows under her legs. When he was done, he took her hand in his.
“How do ye feel?” he asked.
Elena opened her mouth to speak—and was gripped with a fierce contraction that ripped a cry from her lips. A worried voice sounded from the other side of the door.
“Ye’ll be fine,” Grant murmured to her. He stroked her hair, smiling gently. “Everythin’ will be fine.”
“Grant, I’m scared.”
“Ye daenae have to be.” Desperately, he kissed her knuckles. “I’ll be with ye every moment.”
He was. When the midwife arrived an hour later, when she was seized with waves and waves of contractions that brought her to tears and had her throat hoarse from screaming, Grant never let go of her hand. Hours later, Elena felt the first signs of the baby coming, and still, he remained. Always calm, always consoling, always telling her that everything will be fine.
In the end, a baby girl was born. Elena let the fear and trepidation rush out of her to be replaced with her relief as she held the tiny baby in her arms. The ear-piercing wails she let out was the sweetest thing Elena had ever heard.
“Can we come in yet?” came Catriona’s voice on the other end of the door.
Drained, Elena could do nothing more than nod. Grant bid her wish and went to the door to let in her sisters. They rushed to her side, but took care not to stand too close.
“Oh, heavens, how sweet,” Mary sighed.
“It’s a girl,” Elena told them. She was sweaty, and though she had been cleaned before being allowed to hold her child, she still felt terrible. Looking at her daughter’s sweet face was enough to cast away all negative feelings.
“What will ye name her?” Ayrin asked.
Elena looked at Grant. He smiled nodding. They’d already decided on a name from beforehand, but to say it aloud felt more special than she’d expected it to be. “Her name is Laren,” Elena declared.
The sisters fell silent at that. Mary lifted her finger to her eye, wiping at her tear. Catriona folded her lips back as she hung her head. The somberness that had come over them was more than Elena had expected, but it was fitting. After all, Laren was the name of their deceased mother.
They perked up after a while, cooing over the baby who had stopped crying in Elena’s arms. They soon began to take their leave, and Elena and Grant were alone once again.
Elena instantly sagged into the pillows, resting her head back. Happy tears squeezed past her eyelids. “I cannae believe we have a bairn,” she murmured.
“Neither can I,” Gran responded. “Ye did so well, Elena.”
“I couldnae have done it without ye.” She smiled when he kissed her on her sweaty temple, closing her eyes. “Now, when shall we have another one?”
Grant’s brows lifted in surprise. “Ye are thinkin’ about that already?”
“We have no reason to wait, do we?” she teased tiredly. “After all, ye did promise me that we would be spending a lifetime together. Let’s do all that we can.”
Grant laughed under his breath. “As ye wish, me Love.”
Elena fell asleep to those words. Soon, they would follow her into her dreams and throughout the rest of her life.
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