Ryder MacGree is the first born son to Chieftain Goth MacGree and heir to the clan. Over the years he’s watched his father’s need for vengeance against Ian—Ryder’s younger brother, who chose banishment instead of wedding the woman Goth wanted—and the Karstelle Clan which took in Ian, consume him. The chieftain has become hell-bent on wiping out those in Karstelle Valley and taking their lands, and it has begun to cause tension between themselves and nearby clans. Ryder knows his father is no longer fit to lead but has yet to discover a way to wrest control from him without fracturing his clan’s loyalty. Tricked into meeting a herald from the Karstelle Clan, Ryder still jumps at their offer of a way to end the fighting. The terms could prove difficult to fulfill, however. On top of that, he discovers the people of Karstelle Valley are hiding something…something that could be dangerous to his people. Can Ryder figure out the best way to care for his clan before it’s too late?
When Ryder reached the first room, which he’d chosen for Ryantra due to its luxury, he stated, “This is for ye, Miss Ryantra. If’n ye need anything,” he continued, stepping into the room. He could feel the heat of the woman along his back, she followed him so closely. “There is a bell-pull by the bed,” he told her, pointing to the rope.
“I see,” Ryantra all but purred as she moved past him. “And does that bell-pull go directly to you?”
Ryder felt her hand trail along his back, her touch light but sure. He glanced over at her, but she was already pulling away, peering around the room with a disinterested expression. She swung her hips provocatively, drawing attention to her well-formed backside.
Feeling his body respond to her not-so-subtle advances, Ryder reined in his libido. He focused on her question. “Uh, nay,” he responded. “A maid will come to ye. If’n ye need to see me, just tell her and she’ll fetch me.”
“I will certainly be using it,” Ryantra murmured, smirking. “Although, mayhap you would like to return after speaking with your chieftain and share the midday meal with me?”
Ryder wasn’t so certain he wanted a private meal with Ryantra quite yet. With how forward she was combined with his admitted attraction to her, he feared he’d be forced into a decision far swifter than he wished.
Wait, when did I decide there is any decision to make?
Glancing toward the door and the men who stood in the hall—or more pointedly, the slender, muscular blond—seeing the man again, seeing the way he’d interacted with a stable hand most people just dismissed, he realized he wasn’t so decided as he’d originally thought.
Shite! Wouldna that cause all kinds of problems if’n I were to choose—
Canna allow me father to continue controlling me decisions.
Returning his focus to Ryantra, Ryder offered her a smile as he responded, “To remain unbiased, I feel that I should have a meal in a social settin’ in order of how the elder introduced ye.” He looked toward Eustize. “After I meet with me father, I wish ye would join me for a mid-morning meal with a few of my…well, men I call friends.”
“Of course,” Eustize immediately responded, his smile one of pleasure. “I would enjoy that very much.”
“Grand,” Ryder responded, then turned back to Ryantra. “I oversee training in the late morning hours, but I would be honored to take ye on a picnic lunch?”
“Aye, that will be acceptable,” Ryantra responded, a cool smile curving her lips. “May we come and watch training? As a warrior, I’d be interesting in reviewing techniques with you and your people.”
Ryder hesitated a moment, then nodded slowly. “Aye. I doona have a problem with that, but allow the chieftain a day to get used to yer presence.” He sighed as he shook his head, adding, “He’s goin’ to resist this every step of the way. Nay need to add to his ire first thing.”
“Of course,” Ryantra responded. “Then I’ll see you in a while. I’ll get settled in now.”
Recognizing a dismissal when he heard one, Ryder nodded once and left the room, closing the door solidly behind him. He inhaled deeply, a bit of tension releasing from his shoulders. He hadn’t even realized it had been there. Why was that? Was it because he was working so hard to be polite, to get along with the woman?
Gods, I hope that’s all it is.
Turning to face the waiting pair of men, Ryder smiled. “If’n ye’ll follow me, Tygo, Eustize,” he encouraged. “Ye rooms aren’t far, but I didna want to put ye too close together for reasons I’m certain ye can imagine.”
Eustize chuckled, his dark features lighting with a wry smile. “Aye,” he agreed, winking. “If I see Ryantra continue to paw you, I’ll be sure to report her to Elder Combs.”
“I doona understand. Paw me?”
“When several are vying for the attentions of the same person, it is forbidden to initiate touching,” Tygo told him. His sun-bronzed cheeks turned a pleasing shade of pink as he mumbled, “While we’d all welcome your touch, you have to be the one to…start things.”
“Oh?” Ryder wondered just how often these sorts of…vying for a single person’s interests happened. “Ye have rules for this sort of…would ye call this a contest?” As he asked, he started leading them down the hallway.
“A courtship,” Eustize told him as he and Tygo fell into step on either side of him. For some reason, Ryder felt himself edging more toward Tygo. Even in the dimness of the torch-lit hallway, he still felt the urge to touch his golden hair.
So very odd.