Ice Forged Online - Gail Z. Martin

PROLOGUE

THIS HAS TO END.” BLAINE McFADDEN LOOKED at his sister Mari huddled in the bed, covers drawn up to her chin. She was sobbing hard enough that it nearly robbed her of breath and was leaning against Aunt Judith, who murmured consolations. Just sixteen, Mari looked small and lost. A vivid bruise marked one cheek. She struggled to hold her nightgown together where it had been ripped down the front.

“You’re upsetting her more.” Judith cast a reproving glance his way.

“I’m upsetting her? Father’s the one to blame for this. That drunken son of a bitch…” Blaine’s right hand opened and closed, itching for the pommel of his sword.

“Blaine…” Judith’s voice warned him off.

“After what he did… you stand up for him?”

Judith McFadden Ainsworth raised her head to meet his gaze. She was a thin, handsome woman in her middle years; and when she dressed for court, it was still possible to see a glimpse of the beauty she had been in her youth. Tonight, she looked worn. “Of course not.”

“I’m sick of his rages. Sick of being beaten when he’s on one of his binges…”

Judith’s lips quirked. “You’ve been too tall for him to beat for years now.”

At twenty years old and a few inches over six feet tall, Blaine stood a hand’s breadth taller than Lord McFadden. While he had his mother’s dark chestnut hair, his blue eyes were a match in color and determination to his father’s. Blaine had always been secretly pleased that while he resembled his father enough to avoid questions of paternity, in build and features he took after his mother’s side of the family. Where his father was short and round, Blaine was tall and rangy. Ian McFadden’s features had the smashed look of a brawler; Blaine’s were more regular, and if not quite handsome, better than passable. He was honest enough to know that though he might not be the first man in a room to catch a lady’s eye, he was pleasant enough in face and manner to attract the attention of at least one female by the end of the evening. The work he did around the manor and its lands had filled out his chest and arms. He was no longer the small, thin boy his father caned for the slightest infraction.

“He killed our mother when she got between him and me. He took his temper out on my hide until I was tall enough to fight back. He started beating Carr when I got too big to thrash. I had to put his horse down after he’d beaten it and broken its legs. Now this… it has to stop!”

“Blaine, please.” Judith turned, and Blaine could see tears in her eyes. “Anything you do will only make it worse. I know my brother’s tempers better than anyone.” Absently, she stroked Mari’s hair.

“By the gods… did he…” But the shamed look on Judith’s face as she turned away answered Blaine’s question.

“I’ll kill that son of a bitch,” Blaine muttered, turning away and sprinting down the hall.

“Blaine, don’t. Blaine—”

He took the stairs at a run. Above the fireplace in the parlor hung two broadswords, weapons that had once belonged to his grandfather. Blaine snatched down the lowest broadsword. Its grip felt heavy and familiar in his hand.

“Master Blaine…” Edward followed him into the room. The elderly man was alarmed as his gaze fell from Blaine’s face to the weapon in his hand. Edward had been Glenreith’s seneschal for longer than Blaine had been alive. Edward: the expert manager, the budget master, and the family’s secret-keeper.

“Where is he?”

“Who, m’lord?”

Blaine caught Edward by the arm and Edward shrank back from his gaze. “My whore-spawned father, that’s who. Where is he?”

“Master Blaine, I beg you…”

“Where is he?”

“He headed for the gardens. He had his pipe with him.”

Blaine headed for the manor’s front entrance at a dead run. Judith was halfway down the stairs. “Blaine, think about this. Blaine—”

He flung open the door so hard that it crashed against the wall. Blaine ran down the manor’s sweeping stone steps. A full moon lit the sloping lawn well enough for Blaine to make out the figure of a man in the distance, strolling down the carriage lane. The smell of his father’s pipe smoke wafted back to him, as hated as the odor of camphor that always clung to Lord McFadden’s clothing.

The older man turned at the sound of Blaine’s running footsteps. “You bastard! You bloody bastard!” Blaine shouted.

Lord Ian McFadden’s eyes narrowed as he saw the sword