Redeemed (Heroes of the Highlands)
Author:Kerrigan Byrne

Chapter One

The question hung in the air like the heavy, inescapable stench of charred flesh or rotted meat. Everyone’s eyes held the same breathless and hopeful expectation as they stared at her.

Kylah worried a part of her cheek with her teeth. What was she supposed to be feeling at this moment? What was the acceptable response they expected her to convey? She supposed she could react one of two ways.

Anger and betrayal. How could you, my sister, marry the brother of the vile Laird who murdered us all? He carries their poisonous blood in his veins. I’ll never forgive you for this… et cetera and so on.

Or she could side with her youngest sister, Kamdyn, and her mother, Elspeth. I trust your judgment and am ready to give the new MacKay Laird a chance to make you happy and right the wrongs done to our family... Heaping platitudes of magnanimous forgiveness and such until everyone’s worries were laid to rest.

Kylah studied the pale green glow she cast on the warm rugs and tapestries littering her mother’s new cottage. Since she’d refused to move into the keep with the MacKay Laird, Rory had bequeathed to Elspeth a lovely warm home close to the castle so her eldest, Katriona, or Kathryn as she was now known, would be able to visit her family often. A kindness Kylah supposed she should be grateful for on her mother’s behalf. She no longer had to worry about her comfort and survival. Elspeth now had a living daughter to care for her.

Gratitude. Relief. Yet more emotion she was supposed to experience but didn’t.

She searched her soul for the warmth of sisterly affection and compassion, or the heat of rage brought on by the pain of disloyalty. But found—emptiness.

Less than that. She stood at the edge of a black, gaping abyss and kept squinting and straining to see the bottom like a bloody fool. She couldn’t very well reach into it and pluck out an answer. It contained nothing.

She was nothing.

No one.

Therefore, why did her opinion even matter? Why was it her responsibility to grant them absolution for something they were going to do regardless? Because she was the only one who had been violently raped before she died?

“Kylah, dear, whatever you’re thinking you can just say it outright.” Kamdyn drifted toward her and leaned the specter of her shoulder next to Kylah’s to show support. In fact, their outlines overlapped as the dead could no longer touch the living. Or each other. They just floated above the floor, little more than ghosts. Ineffectual Banshees. “What do you feel about Laird Rory and Katriona being married?” she repeated the question.

Kylah flicked a glance at the Laird in question. Even stone-faced and grim, Rory MacKay didn’t resemble his twin brother Angus in the slightest. With the tall, broad frame of a mythic warrior, his handsome features consisted of different variations of bronze. Light hair, amber-hued eyes, and sun-kissed skin had once contrasted with the ugly pallor of his brother’s ruddy complexion. Rory wore pity and remorse like a cloak, but hid defiance beneath it like a concealed dirk. He didn’t take responsibility for his brother’s actions, though they shamed and angered him.

Katriona stood next to her husband, hand clutched within his large palm, her eyes pleading for understanding. Kylah latched on to them, for Katriona’s eyes were the only thing that remained her own. The rest of her body had once belonged to Kathryn Frasier, Rory’s bride. Where she’d once favored her sisters, tall and slim with long, mahogany hair, she now resembled a Nordic princess. Blond curls tangled down her back, tamed with a circlet and braids. Pale skin touched with a golden hue covered lush curves most women only dreamed of possessing.

Katriona had never been a great beauty, but Kylah missed the honest angles of her sister’s expressive face. The one she’d had before it was melted away in the fire Rory’s brother had ignited.

Elspeth was the hardest to look at. And not because of the shiny, painful burn scars on her face, but the softer way she regarded Rory MacKay. With a little kindness, he’d won over her mother, but Kylah and Kamdyn remained unconvinced.

Elspeth reached out to Kylah, like she’d done so many times in the months since she’d spoken the olde words that’d turned her murdered daughters into Banshees. “Kylah, love, don’t you want your sister—”

“It’s fine.” Kylah drifted back from her mother and attempted to force inflection into her answer, but from the looks on their faces, she’d failed utterly.

“Fine?” Kamdyn echoed. “Are you certain? You don’t sound—”

“I said its fine,” Kylah insisted. “I can feel that he loves her, and that she loves him. Is anything we say going to change that? Or have any effect on how they’ve chosen to live their lives together?”

Katriona and Rory looked at each other. His strong hand tightened around hers, and his solemn eyes softened with unabashed affection.

“Nay,” Katriona murmured. “But we came here to explain. It happened so fast. We wanted to give you all a chance to express your feelings or concerns over what has transpired.”

“I have none.”

Katriona’s brow wrinkled. A familiar expression on a foreign face. “None of which, feelings or concerns?”

Either. Both. She could pick one. “I’ve told you it’s all right.” Kylah hoped those words fared better than fine. They were all she had to give them.

“Your feelings have to be more complicated than that, sister.”

“They’re not.”

“But dearheart…” Elspeth stepped forward once more and Kylah again retreated. It was a struggle to look at her mother. Not because of Elspeth’s disfigured face, but because of the hurt and pity etched into her gaze. Her mother always reminded Kylah of that night. Because she’d been forced to watch. And Kylah relived those terrible moments before her death through the unspeakable horror in her mother’s eyes.