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For My Lady's Kissby Linda Needham
Synopses & Reviews
"Choose me, Mackenna Hughes! I'll make you happy, lass!"
Mackenna was sure the bellowing voice belonged to Robbie. 'Twas a blessing she was blindfolded and couldn't see the rutting boar and his frothing scarlet hair, she'd laugh for certain and damage his brittle male pride.
"Don't go choosing Robbie, Mackenna. He has nary a whisker to show for all his twenty years-should make you wonder what else he's yet to grow! 'Tis me you ought to be choosing."
Garvey, the braggart. A bit raw, but she could at least trust him to do a full day's labor
"Just three steps more, Mackenna, and I'm all yours. I'll work hard for you, sweet lass; plow my furrows by day, and yours by night."
Mackenna cringed. Poor Kyle must be deep in his cups; he was usually a pious man without a ribald thought in his head. Aye, a good man, but nay, she shouldn't be listening to any of them! She didn't want to know. . . .
"Damn it, Mackenna. You'll come here, if you know what's bloody good for you. I'm standing. right in front of you."
Owyn. The blacksmith had the nature of a hedgehog: prickly, dull-witted, and quick to anger. A man to avoid.
"Over here, Mackenna! To the right a little more, then straight on into my arms! No, no, my girl, to your right ..."
"I love you, 'Kenna!"
And then all the others began caterwauling as one, angering her to the core. This wasn't some silly Michaelmas game to pass the time till the dancing began. This was her future! And now, these unfeeling louts had ruined everything! She knew each voice as well as she knew her own, and now, she knew exactly where each manwas standing, in the surrounding circle. Blessed Lady, if she weren't such a coward she'd rip the blindfold off and just choose.
Aye, but this was a coward's way to choose a husband.
"What are you waiting for, Mackenna? They're none of 'em gettin' any prettier."
She rounded on Meg Bavitts's voice. "If you think you can do better, Meg dear, choose one of the sluggards for yourself. 111 be glad to pick from the leavings."
Laughter rose up around her, carried aloft by too much Michaelmas ale. The minstrels launched into a lively tune and the market square exploded with singing. Even blindfolded, Mackenna felt the circle surge inward impatiently. Evening was near upon them, the air was sweet and unusually warm, and the dancing was soon to begin in earnest — gladsome dancing that would Surely greet a rose-soft dawn.
And why should it not? The harvest had been bountiful this summer; hard work and good planning had paid off as never before in the four years since she'd become the reeve. The hogs were fattening on acorns in the forest, most of the winter plowing was done, and the grain stores were safely hidden in the abandoned castle, where no one outside the village would think to look.
The castle-forsaken and overwhelming as it threatened from its precipice-was a bitter reminder that the king would one day send an overlord to reclaim the fortress, to. enslave the Village as Lord Gilvane had done, to plunder and starve and destroy.
Strong fingers suddenly claimed her elbow. "You must end this blasphemy, Mackenna."
She might have known: Father Berton and his confessional voice, raised now to compete with the tumult around them.
" 'Tis not blasphemy,Father," she said through clenched teeth.
"A stranger wandering into our fair village would think you a practicing pagan. You must remove this blindfold."
"I'm choosing a husband, not a rooster for my hens. Shall I have them strut through the market square so I might pick the one with the best display of tail feathers and the largest comb?"
Oh, but how could she choose any of them? Though most were pleasing in some way, none had made her heart quicken, nor caused her to wonder if his kiss would be as sweet as May wine.
"'Tis unworthy of you, Mackenna."
"I admit it, Father; I'm cowardly to the marrow, unable to choose from among my suitors in the ordinary way."
"So a game of chance is your answer? 'Tis unnatural."
McKenna yanked off the blindfold and glared into Father Berton's ice-blue eyes. "I'll not be blaming myself for something I'm being forced to do. Suppose I choose wrong? How do I live with myself? I'd make the poor man miserable, and myself as well. Better that my eyes are closed and I have naught to blame but chance."
The small priest hunched his shoulders to enfold their private words. "Wait on it, Mackenna. You needn't take a husband today."
"I've got four elder brothers, one married, one soon to be, and two others with marriage on their minds. 'Tis long past time I should have found a husband and a home of my own."
"For the love of God, then, spare yourself a bit of dignity, Mackenna, and decide within the privacy of your own family."
"Aye, we did just that, Father," Galen grumbled suddenly from behind her, "but our sister refused to marry the man! 'Tis a disgrace."
Mackenna whirled and glared at her eldest brother. "I don'tneed your help, Galen." He'd broken through the perimeter, trailing Cadell, Bryce, and Addis right behind him. She loved her brothers, but lately she'd begun to think she had far too many.
"We tried to stop her," Galen continued.
"You threatened to tie me to a tree -"
"That never worked when we were children," Bryce said, grinning as he tugged gently on a length of her hair. "You always escaped."
"Well, she's not gong, to escape this time. Bloody blazes, Mackenna. Choose a husband immediately, or we'll do it for you." A vein throbbed in Galen's forehead.
"You'll name my husband over my dead and bleeding body."
"That we could manage right well," Galen shouted.
The circle of bridegrooms had once been twenty paces across; now it was less than ten, and getting smaller with every passing oath as everyone in Fellhaven pressed in closer for a better look at another Hughes family debate.