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“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” – Jane Austen
The command from King James had come like a thunder cloud.
Jason, one of the king’s favored warriors and leader of the illustrious Clan Morgan, would wed the Lowland daughter of a minor chieftain who lived so close to the cursed border that he might as well be a Sassanech.
There would be no explanation for the command, no context for why James commanded it be so—and there would be no questioning. Men did not question their king and keep their head. Their family’s holdings.
Jason’s family had fought for the Bruce a century previous and remained closely allied with the royal family—had fought against the usurper Balliol. He was loyal.
He stood in the chapel before the priest, his infamous stoical nature all that kept him from raging at his king and a world in which he could be the supreme leader of his own people and not in charge of his own destiny.
A Lowlands wench would hardly survive the first winter in the Highlands, and yet he would have to breed that weakness into his sons. After all he had sacrificed and worked for—
She appeared on her father’s arm at the end of the chapel, a pretty delicate girl in a gown of blue with her with chestnut hair bound up under a gold circlet.
And she looked terrified. No doubt she had had her Lowland mind filled with stories of Highland chiefs and their rough way of life. Of Jason’s deeds in battle, which might as well appear savage to her.
“Here.” Her father—whose name Jason had not asked for—took her arm and thrust her away. The girl—Elizabeth—stumbled slightly, and Jason caught her. He eyed the father with suspicion. He seemed to happy to be rid of the girl—what could be wrong with her?
“If we may?” the priest said with a light cough.
Jason caught the eye of his king who narrowed his eyes. Whatever the reason for the commanded marriage—there was little Jason could do now. She would be his wife.
When it came time for her to give her vows, she was quiet for a moment, but her hands squeezed his and her eyes found his. They were blue—as deep and dark as the loch near his home.
“Lass,” he prompted, when she said nothing. “You must swear your oath.”
“Aye,” she said, her voice low and even. She cast a look at the priest before looking back at Jason. “Aye, I will.” She seemed more assured, as if—as if in that moment their eyes had met—he had reassured her. Her grasp on his hands eased until they just lay in his, palm to palm.
“Laird?” the priest prompted.
“Aye,” Jason said, and she smiled. A genuine smile—at odds with the fear that he had seen when she had entered the chapel. What had changed? If she was not afraid of him, then…
His shoulders tensed as he saw her father, murmuring at the king. Aye. Something was amiss here if the lass felt more at ease with a man she had known for minutes than her own family.
He would discovery what treachery was afoot.
Inside the chambers lent to them for the occasion of the wedding, the former Elizabeth Webber laced her fingers together tightly and closed her eyes. Remembering the flash she had received when she had looked into the eyes of her new husband.
He was a kind man, she told herself. Gruff. Stubborn. But kind. And if she was a good wife to him, he would be a good husband to her. She had seen them, sitting by a fire—her heavy with child, he carving the cradle where their child would sleep. They had been content. Serene.
She knew the flashes did not always come true—that they were often just a window into the possibilities. He might be killed in battle, she might be lost to disease.
But it would be better than what had come before.
If she never told him about who she was. What she was. Then she would be safe.
She just had to keep her secret.
There was a light knock on the door, and then her husband was standing there. She rose from her chair, and they both stared at each other for a long moment.
“I am…nervous,” she admitted. She looked towards the bed. “I know what we must do. That you must—that we must show the sheets tomorrow—”
“I—” Jason, her husband, hesitated. And she could feel his own nerves, his own desire to protect her—but to—she tilted her head. She did not quite recognize that second emotion, but it seemed heated.
“I will not hurt you,” he said finally. He reached for her hand. “I will never hurt you, Elizabeth. I promise that.”
It was not the truth, of course. She saw it when she took his hand. But his intent was pure, and that shone through. He would never intend to hurt her—he would never lock her away, never withhold food or human companionship.
But no one could promise a life free of hurt. And the decency she saw in him—
There was no way to know if it would last. If he would accept her secret. Her curse had a way of turning even the innocent and pure against her.
“I trust you,” Elizabeth said, finally. As much as she could ever trust. “And I will be a good wife. You will never regret this day, my lord.”
“My name is Jason,” he said, drawing her close and dipping his head to kiss her. She did not know quite what he wanted from her, but his lips were smooth and warm, and she felt a tingle in her chest, warmth spreading to her fingertips.
“Aye, Jason,” she said when he raised his head, her breath a bit short. He dipped his head again—but she cried out.
Pain flashed in her chest—like heavy metal cutting into her skin. Elizabeth stumbled to the side, falling to her knees, clutching her hands to her chest. There was no dagger. No weapon.
It was not her pain she had felt, not her death she envisioned.
But her husband’s.
She looked at him, tears spilling down her cheeks. He would die, at the hands of someone he trusted.
“Elizabeth—” He knelt next to her. “What is it?”
She could tell him. It was unlikely that he would believe her–he might have their marriage annulled and cast her out. And still he would die.
Elizabeth closed her eyes, and tried to bring back that first image. Of the family they might create. It was still there—still possible.
She had to keep it from him, return to his home, and find a way protect him—and her secret.