“They stood in the way of progress.”
“Progress,” Rory scoffed. “You ordered Marcus to hand over the key to the safe, and when he refused, you chopped off Toby’s arm and killed his parents when they tried to intervene. That’s not fuckin’ growth. That’s senseless murder.”
Elizabeth sniffed. “Don’t use that tone with me. I’m your grandmother and deserve your respect.”
“Respect? Respect isn’t commanded. You earn it, and you’ve done nothing to earn mine or the rest of the pack. My grandmother is a coward and a bully. You surround yourself with hired hitmen, and everyone in the pack is too frightened to stand against you.”
Elizabeth lifted her nose into the air, unruffled by his accusations. The men standing around her—the paid wolves—stood straighter, each of them on alert.
The door behind Rory opened, and Hugh stepped inside. Several wolves followed him and arranged themselves in a semi-circle behind Rory. A breath eased out of Rory. He hadn’t been certain his clansmen would support him after he’d failed them so badly.
“Hear this, Grandmother,” Rory said. “I refuse to marry Catriona. Anita is my mate, and she is the only woman I will ever consider.”
“I told you not to return if you were considering hooking yourself to that scruffy cat,” Elizabeth snapped. “I can’t let you do that.”
“Try and stop me. No,” he said when she signaled her hired assassins. “This is between you and me. You don’t get others to do your dirty work. Stand down.” His alpha power surged and washed through the Great Hall. It was fitting this encounter was here where everything with Anita had started.
Elizabeth’s guards stood frozen, their mouths slack as they gaped at him. He’d never done this before, never wanted to force his people into following his orders. He’d never displayed his raw power to his grandmother either, and he caught the surge of interest in her face. The satisfaction. Despite his words, she thought she’d won because he was here and exerting his alpha power to get his way. He recalled his father telling him it was a heady ability and, if misused, it rotted the mind and character.
With his father’s warning in mind, he’d used intelligence and reasonable persuasion in his decisions. He hadn’t abused his power.
“Hugh, get me the ceremonial sword,” he said without taking his gaze off his grandmother. Disgust filled him when her eyes widened, but he took no satisfaction from the fear that followed. This would be a fair fight, one fought on even ground. “It is my job as alpha of this pack to maintain the law. You murdered two innocent people and injured their son in a way that will affect his entire life. It was not up to you to mete out punishment.”
Elizabeth’s head lifted, and her power swirled around her.
Rory never blinked, and this made her frown. She’d underestimated him and had never considered he might take action against her. She thought him weak.
“You don’t have witnesses.”
“Ah, but you know that isn’t true. I have a witness.”
Elizabeth cursed and whirled to glare at the dazed wolves.
“Aye, they left Marcus bruised but very much alive.”
“He’s lying. What did he tell you?”
“He’s not lying,” Rory said evenly. “Toby told me the same tale. Elizabeth Henderson, you have committed a heinous crime against the pack, and your punishment is death.”
Her facial muscles went slack before she drew herself up taller. It was apparent she didn’t believe in Rory’s determination.
“Do you wish to confess or fight to the death?” he asked.
“You wouldn’t kill your kin. I’m your grandmother, Rory.”
Rory stared at her, a roiling heat in his belly. “You have gone through life blaming everyone else instead of taking personal responsibility for your failures. Today I heard a dozen cases where you took what you wanted. Behind my back, you stole from our people. You treated them as nothing. For months, I’ve puzzled over why our wolves were leaving. It was desperation because they were too terrified to speak against you.”
“Who has been telling tales?” she demanded, the haughty Highland Queen once again.
Hell, she still believed she could wriggle out of this. “Escort the hired wolves from the castle. Hugh, please pay them from my private funds and see them on their way.”
Elizabeth reached out, and he stepped back.“You can’t do this,” she said, a note of pleading in her tone.
“Leave!” Rory thundered to Elizabeth’s wolves.
They departed on soundless feet with no argument.
Rorystalked over to where the clan claymore sat atop a red velvet cloth. A second sat beside it. He plucked both out of the open case and closed the distance between him and Elizabeth. He’d make this a fair fight, but he was under no illusions. She’d fight dirty.
He hadn’t seen it before, but he saw the corruption in her now. It hurt. Bile burned at the back of his throat. The hard thudding of his heart showed his increased heart rate. This sucked, but he understood what he needed to do to make everything right.
“Fight me,” he ordered his grandmother. “We’ll finish this the right way.”
“You can’t kill me.” Her icy-blue eyes held fury. Smug confidence.
Rory held up his claymore in a defensive position and waited, his weight balanced evenly, his muscles relaxed.
Killing her was the right thing to do, and there was no turning back.