My goodness! Apparently, this week has been a bad week for blogs again. However, I can make up for it! I have been WRITING! Making real progress in Anna and Liam’s wedding. I am thrilled with myself.
My Scotsman has been encouraging me. We talked about doing CampNaNo this month but it was already the 5th and it is a lot to do in 25 days – he was looking to do 50k and I am looking to finish HW3 in 25k words. I can accomplish it, I think, but he felt pressured.
Instead, we’re going to do CampNaNo in July and each write 50k about pirates. Yep, that’s right. Pirates. We have decided there is more than one way to write a pirate story and we’re going to see who writes the best one.
Should be fun.
Meanwhile, I’m getting closer to the actual ceremony at Stirling Castle. This chapter I’m going to share is something that amuses me. Conaire is quite the charmer, truly. I’m charmed by him and I love the men in my life. 😉
I am going to relax for the rest of the evening. My eyes are getting pretty bad. I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as I do; keeping in mind, of course, that it’s first draft material. (If you don’t remember the twins, it’s because you haven’t read the entire book. *laughs*)
The helicopter’s rotors slowed then came to a stop as the occupants stayed in their seats, waiting. Finally, the pilot pulled the door open and the group tumbled out. Anna and Chelle each retained a tight grip on the hand of a twin.
Anna took a moment to admire the tall, imposing looking man came towards them, ignoring the growl from her Mate. He was taller than Liam by a couple of inches, broad shouldered and looked like the movie version of a Highlander with long, dark, wavy hair that brushed his shoulders. Blue eyes were surrounded by thick lashes and faint laugh lines creased his face as he smiled broadly. He was wearing a loose white shirt with laces at the throat, a kilt, tall, thick socks and 8-hole Doc Martens.
He reached them and clasped Liam’s forearm. “My Alpha, how are you?”
Liam clasped his arm in return and clapped his free hand to the man’s shoulder. “Conaire. How many times must I tell you not to call me that?” He let go and drew Anna forward. “This is my Mate, Anna Marie Connor.”
Conaire took her free hand in his and bowed low over it, brushing his lips across her knuckles. He winked at Callie as the girl giggled then rose. “My Alpha,” he said again, “I am Conaire Quigley, Alpha of Stirling. It is a pleasure and an honour to meet the woman who brought Liam to his knees by stealing his heart.”
Anna smiled. “Conaire. It is a pleasure to meet one so generous as you. Thank you so much for the use of the castle and your town for our wedding. It is exceedingly kind of you.”
“’Tis nothing. It is my greatest pleasure to witness such joy.” He leaned close and whispered, “Don’t tell them but I love weddings. I cry at every single one. I expect your’s will cause a deluge.”
Anna’s smile changed to a grin. “Don’t worry,” she whispered back, “it’s our secret.”
Just then, Callie let go of Anna’s hand and tugged on Conaire’s kilt. “I am Callie Ainsley.”
Conaire took her hand and swept her a bow. “Lady Callie, it is a pleasure to meet such a beauty.” He pretended he hadn’t seen Krissy. “Surely, there is no other beauty like you in all the land.”
Krissy let go of Chelle and ran to stand beside her sister. “There is! There’s me! I am Krissy Ainsley!”
Conaire feigned shock and fell, quite deliberately, on his ass. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! There are two of you! I can hardly believe it.”
The twins giggled and helped him to his feet. They inserted their hands into his and refused to let go until they were forced to in order to get into the vehicles waiting to take the group to the castle. They weren’t going to do the full tour until the following day but they wanted to see the wedding venues.
They first stopped to see the Queen Anne Garden and Anna gasped when she stepped through the arch by the Forework. “Oh my! This is gorgeous!” Spread out before her was a large two-tier garden shaped like a flat-topped A with the smaller end at the arch. The lower tier was a vast expanse of thick, lush verdant green grass edged with flowering gardens, holly bushes and small trees. It was surrounded by a tall stone wall and a large, ancient tree provided shade in the middle of the bottom end of the garden.
The top tier was narrow and tucked up against the palace outer wall. As Anna wandered deeper in the garden, following the girls – who had taken off at a run to examine the flowers – at a much slower pace, she studied the upper level. Small shrubs hugged the wall, ivy climbed it. The ancient stones glowed pale yellow in the sunlight. A low stone wall bordered it on the opposite side; roses and other flowering shrubs were planted tight against it on the ground level. It was accessed through another arch from the palace courtyard.
Anna leaned against Liam as he came up and wrapped his arms around her, hands on her belly. She put her hands on his and smiled. “It’s perfect.”
“Aye, ‘tis. You’ll look lovely standing up there in the moonlight.” He kissed the top of her head then slid his arms from around her, taking her hand in the process. “Come, let’s go see the Great Hall.”
The group, with the girls firmly in hand once more, passed through the Forework and headed across the courtyard to the ancient hall. Anna stopped again, staring.
Conaire stopped beside her with Janelle on his other side. “The Great Hall was built for James the IV around 1503. It was part of a major rebuild for his new queen, Margaret Tudor. Five fireplaces, a large dais for the king and queen and a soaring hammerbeam roof made it the largest of its kind ever built in medieval Scotland. Indeed, it was pretty damn big no matter where you come from.” He led them to the large doors and stopped them there before continuing his narrative.
“It was used as soldiers’ barracks in the 1800s. The roof was torn down and it was subdivided. We started the rebuild in the late sixties, using seven hundred and eighty tonnes of stone. We felled three hundred and fifty oak trees to build a new hammerbeam roof and finished the job by farling the exterior walls with plaster tint with gold.”
“It’s breathtaking,” Anna whispered as she craned her neck to look at the details in the stone work around the windows and eaves.
“Thirty-five years it took us to complete and we are extremely proud of it.” Conaire stroked the stone surrounding the door. “Come in!” He threw open the doors and led them inside.
“It looks just like I remember,” Janelle sighed softly. “There are a couple of differences – the lights, the curtains you have along the wall there – but it looks just like I remember.
Conaire looked at her appraisingly. “You’d be her mother then, Janelle, the living Vampire.”
“I am.” Janelle smiled at him.
He took her hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles. “A pleasure.”
Anna frowned. “I don’t remember ever being here, Momma.”
“You weren’t, you were in Spain at the time.” Janelle tipped her head back to study the roof. On one side, right angled brackets rested on rounded stone ledges, bolted to the walls. They support thick trusses that soared high before crossing the roof to come to rest on matching brackets on the other side. The trusses went from one end of the building to the other, reminding Janelle of the ribs of a ship. The oak had been stained dark and it made the entire thing entirely imposing.
Anna nodded, remembering that trip, then turned to Conaire. “The space is glorious. It looks enormous but are you sure there will be enough seating?”
Conaire laughed. “Aye, don’t worry. Whether you want long trestle tables or the round ones that seat ten, there will be room.” He paused to think for a moment. “Given the mix of Vampires and Shifters, I’d suggest the round tables.”
Chelle spoke up from where she’d been studying the building, several meters away. “I’ve already done seating charts for the round tables. Your planner and I have already discussed it.”
Anna smiled at her then turned back to Conaire. “It’s settled then. I know that my mother must be ready to relax; it’s been a long day for her. May we see our hotel now?” She refused to admit that she was the exhausted one; her belly ached and her feet felt like watermelons filled with tiny needles. She sighed inwardly, if this is what the rest of the pregnancy was going to be like she was in trouble. Maybe it was a good thing it appeared to be going to be shorter. She was kicked three times simultaneously, as if the babies could read her thoughts. Rubbing her hands over the babies, she thought calming, loving thoughts at them.
Liam frowned at her then nodded in agreement as he came to her side and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. “Aye, it’s time to settle in, make sure the rest of us have arrived in one piece.”
“As you wish.” Conaire spoke briefly into his phone then took them outside again and led them across the courtyard, “You lot, those of you who came in the copter, and the girls’ mother, will be staying at Argyle’s Lodging. Your rehearsal dinner is also there tomorrow night. The rest of you will be staying at The Boar and the Thistle. The Boar is a wonderful, warm pub. You’ll find good ale, good food, darts and great music there. The Thistle is the inn above.”
Conaire bowed as they reached hedges that marked the entrance to the inn; it was just a couple dozen meters down the path from the Forework. “I shall see you again tomorrow. Enjoy your stay. The cars will be at your disposal, you have but to call.” He bowed to Anna and Liam, handing Liam a card with the number for the cars, then turned to Krissy and Callie. “And you, my princesses, there is something special awaiting you in your rooms. Be sure to be good girls and earn the privilege of keeping it.” He bowed to them too, like they were indeed princesses and he was a courtier.
The girls giggled then surprised everyone by wrapping their arms around his neck and hugging him tight. They then allowed themselves to be swept into the small maze in front of the inn with everyone else.