Straightening her shoulders, she folded her hands in her lap and waited for Brodick to tell her to begin. Dylan remained by her side with his arms folded across his chest.

"How did you and Alec end up together?" Brodick asked.

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"I'm not certain where to start."

"At the beginning," he ordered.

She nodded. "The obsession started a long time ago."

"Obsession?" Dylan asked.

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"Let her explain without interruption," Brodick suggested. "Then we will both ask questions."

"I have a sister," Gillian said. "Her name is Christen, and when we were little girls, our home was invaded and our father was killed."

The rising wind whistled through the pine trees, the sound eerily melancholy, Gillian gripped her hands as she described the black night in vivid detail, though in truth she wasn't certain if she actually remembered what had happened or if Liese had given her the memory. The story of Arianna's treasure and the king's obsession to find the man who had murdered his love intrigued Brodick, but he didn't bother her now with questions. He merely nodded when she hesitated, urging her to continue.

"If the baron finds the treasure before anyone else, he will receive a great reward. He's motivated purely by greed," she explained. "Still, I don't think he knew for certain that Christen was given the box when she left England or he surely would have intensified his search for her."

Brodick interrupted her concentration when he lifted her plaid and wrapped it around her shoulders. "You're shivering," he said gruffly.

Surprised by his thoughtfulness, she stammered her thank-you.

"Continue," he ordered, shrugging off the gratitude as inconsequential.

"The baron has learned that Christen does indeed hide in the Highlands."

"And where did he get this information?"

"From the Highlander who came to him with a proposal. Remember," she hastily added, "over the years the baron has sent inquiries to all the clans, but none responded until about a month ago, when the Highlander arrived. He told the baron he knew where Christen was and that he could give the baron the information he needed if in return he would do something for him."

"And what did this Highlander want done?" Brodick asked.

"He wanted Laird Ramsey's brother taken from the festival to draw Ramsey out so he could kill him. He wants both of them dead."

Dylan couldn't keep silent. "But the Maitland boy was taken."

"Yes, they stole the wrong child."

Their questions began, one following another until her head throbbed. The sound of Alec's laughter carried from the lake. The soldiers were keeping him occupied, she knew, so he wouldn't interfere with Brodick's inquisition.

"Where do you fit in this puzzle, Gillian?" Brodick asked.

"I was told to find my sister and the treasure and bring both back to the baron before our fall festival begins."

"And if you fail?"

"My Uncle Morgan will be killed." Her voice broke on a sob that took her by complete surprise. Exhaustion was making her emotional, she decided, and she willed herself to calm down. "He is the dearest man. He took me into his home and raised me as his daughter. I love him and I will protect him at all cost."

"The baron isn't related to you?"

"No, he isn't. Are you almost finished questioning me? I would like to get Alec settled for the night. It's late."

"I'm almost finished," he replied. "Give me the name of this Highlander who made the pact with the baron."

"I cannot give you the name, for I never heard it."

"Are you telling me the truth? Surely the baron or one of his friends said the man's name," he said, his frustration palpable in the sudden stillness.

"Why would I lie? To protect a traitor?"

"But you did see him, didn't you?" Brodick pressed. "Alec told me you saw the Highlander from the hill."

"Yes."

"And you would recognize him if you saw him again?" Dylan asked.

"Yes," she answered. "Alec and I were well hidden on a knoll with a path just below. I saw him clearly as he rode toward me. He isn't the only traitor involved, though," she added. "Alec said there were two… maybe three… who took him from the festival." So weary now she could barely hold her head up, she whispered, "You do know why the Highlander was returning to Dunhanshire, don't you?"

"To inform the baron he'd taken the wrong boy," Dylan answered. "And then Alec would have been killed. Isn't that right?"

"Yes."

"Milady, why were you beaten? Did the bastard give you a reason?" Dylan asked.

"A man who strikes a woman is a coward, Dylan, and cowards don't need reasons to justify their actions." Brodick's voice radiated anger.

Gillian pulled the plaid close. "Our first attempt to escape failed, and the baron wanted to punish Alec and me."

"The boy said you threw yourself on top of him to protect him," Dylan said. "It was a brave act, milady."

She disagreed. "I wasn't brave; I was terrified they would kill him. I don't think I've ever been so scared. I had just heard the Highlander was on his way, and I knew why, and I was in such a panic to get Alec away before—" She stopped suddenly and took a deep breath. "So many things could have gone wrong. They could have separated us or hidden Alec away from me, and every time I think what could have happened, I become terrified all over again. Brave? I think not."

Brodick and Dylan shared a look before Brodick continued. "Who specifically inflicted the punishment? Was it the baron or one of his soldiers?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Answer me."

"The baron."

"Alec said that another man struck you. Is that true?" Brodick's voice was low and frightfully menacing.

"I don't remember."

"Yes, you do," he snapped. "Tell me."

Startled by his curt tone, she stiffened her spine. "As a matter of fact, one of his friends struck me. I don't understand why you need to know about it, though. It's over and done with."

"Nay, lass," he said softly. "It's only just begun."

Chapter Nine

Beneath the steely exterior of a warrior beat the heart of a true gentleman. The revelation was both surprising and amusing, for though Brodick obviously wanted to be solicitous, it quickly became apparent he didn't have the faintest idea how. When he finally called a halt to the questioning, she hastily stood up before he could change his mind. She turned to leave, but her feet got tangled up in the plaid, and she stumbled forward into his arms instead. He grabbed her by her shoulders to steady her, which was a very thoughtful thing to do, of course, but he didn't stop there. Once he had her, he decided to keep her. As though he had every right to do so, he threw his arm around her shoulders, his staggering weight all but knocking her to the ground, and hauled her up against him. She tried to delicately shrug him away, but that didn't work, and so she looked up at him to tell him to let go. He was waiting for her, and, Lord, the impact of those dark penetrating eyes, filled with such compassion and tenderness, made her heart quicken and her knees tremble.

Did he have any idea of the effect he had on her? The warmth of his skin made her wish she could snuggle closer to him. His heat felt better than ten blankets piled on top of her. And his voice, too, so rich and gruff, was wonderfully sensual. Why, even the way he walked, with such unbridled arrogance, as though he believed he owned the world, his h*ps moving with easy grace, and those muscular thighs of his…

She blocked the unseemly thought. She shouldn't be noticing such things. 'Twas the truth she'd never known any man like him, though, or felt this kind of reaction. All she wanted to do was put her head down on his shoulder for a few minutes and close her eyes. When she was with him, she didn't feel so vulnerable and unsure of herself. Brodick seemed to be the kind of man who wasn't afraid of anything. Did he think he was invincible? And did thinking it make it true? Where had his arrogance and confidence come from, she wondered, and, oh, how she wished she could borrow a little of both.

Exhaustion was surely taking its toll. She glanced up at him and smiled. Odd that she'd known him for less than a full day, yet she felt as though she'd been with him for years. They walked to the lake leaning into one another like old friends, comfortable with the closeness and the silence, but also like lovers, she imagined, who were breathless in anticipation for what might come.

Aye, his effect on her was quite strange. He made her believe she wasn't alone. Would he help her slay the monsters? No, she immediately decided. She couldn't, and wouldn't, involve him in her battles. She understood her responsibility. She would fight the dragon alone, and if she failed…

"Are you cold, Gillian?"

"No."

"You're shivering."

"I was thinking about my uncle. I worry about him."

"Is he worth your worry?"

"Oh, yes, he is."

He leaned close to her ear. "Can you do anything about your uncle tonight?"

"No," she answered, trying to ignore the caress of his warm sweet breath against her sensitive skin.

"Then let it go for now. Worrying won't help him."

"That's easier said than accomplished."

"Perhaps," he allowed.

Alec ran past them, dragging a stick behind him. The child was barefoot and bare-chested and obviously having a fine time. His laughter echoed through the trees.

"He's too excited to sleep."

"He'll sleep soundly," he predicted.

He didn't let go of her until they reached the water's edge. Then he asked, "Can you manage on your own or do you need help?"

"I can manage, thank you."

"Don't get your arm wet," he reminded her as he started back to camp.

"Wait."

He turned back to her. "Yes?"

"You…"

She suddenly stopped. Wondering why she hesitated, he took a step toward her. She bowed her head and folded her hands together as though in prayer. She looked terribly vulnerable now… and sweet… he thought.

"Yes?" he repeated.

"You make me feel safe. I thank you for that."

He didn't know how to respond. He finally managed a quick nod, then walked away.

Even though Gillian could tell she'd startled him, she was still glad she'd told him how she felt. She knew she could have been more eloquent, but it was too late now to start over.

Her arm still hurt, though not nearly as much as it had earlier in the day, and she was hopeful her fever would ease soon. By morning she would either be as right as rain or dead, and at the moment she had trouble deciding which would be better. Fatigue was pressing down on her like a vise. Perhaps a bath would make her feel better, she decided. The water didn't look deep near the bank, the stone bottom appeared smooth, and she would be careful, of course, not to get her bandage wet.

She got trapped in her tunic when she tried to pull it over her head, then she bumped her arm. It was all suddenly too much, and she burst into tears and collapsed.

But before she could fall to the ground, she felt strong arms lifting her up to her feet. She couldn't see; the tunic was pressed against her face, yet she knew Brodick had come to her rescue.

"Are you wanting this off or on?" he asked gruffly.

She nodded. It wasn't a proper answer, and so he made the decision for her and pulled the tunic over her head. Tossing it on the grass, he tilted her chin up, saw the tears, and wrapped his arms around her. "You can cry all you want. No one's here to bother you."

She wiped the tears away with his plaid. "You're here," she whispered, sounding pitiful.

His chin dropped to the top of her head, and he continued to hold her until she grew calm. Allowing her to pull back, he asked, "Better now?"

"Yes, thank you."

She couldn't believe what she did then. Before she could stop herself, she leaned up on tiptoes, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the mouth. Her lips brushed over his for the barest of seconds, but it was still a kiss, and when she came to her senses and dared to pull away and look at him, he had the most curious expression on his face.

Brodick knew she regretted her spontaneity, but as he stared into her brilliant green eyes, he also knew, with a certainty that shook him to the core, that his life had just been irrevocably changed by this mere slip of a woman.

Dazed by her own boldness, she slowly stepped back. "I don't know what came over me," she whispered.

"When this is over…"

"Yes, Brodick?"

He shook his head, unwilling for the moment to say another word, and then turned abruptly and walked away.

What had he been about to say? She longed to go after him and demand that he explain, and then immediately changed her mind. When Brodick wanted her to know what he was thinking, he would tell her. Besides, she was pretty certain she knew exactly what it was. Soon she would return to England and it was therefore foolish to become attached.

Why in God's name had she kissed him? Was she out of her mind or just plain stupid? She didn't need a complication like this now, not with all the trouble she was in. She thought about going after him then to explain that she really hadn't meant to kiss him—it had just happened—a spontaneous act nurtured by his kindness and her curiosity. Perhaps she should just pretend it hadn't happened, she thought as she touched her mouth with her fingertips and let out a long sigh of regret.

A bath, she decided, was out of the question, for in her bemused state, she would probably drown. She washed as thoroughly as she could, then took her time dressing as she summoned the courage to go back to camp and face Brodick.

All of the Buchanans were sitting together on the far side of the clearing, talking to one another until they spotted her coming toward them. The sudden silence unnerved her and she didn't dare look at Brodick for fear she'd blush and cause the other soldiers to wonder why. She kept her head down while she prepared her bed on the opposite side of the clearing, but she could feel all of them watching her. Alec was drawing circles in the dirt with his stick.

"Are you ready for bed, Alec?" she called out.

"I'm gonna sleep with the men. All right?"

"Yes," she answered. "Good night, then."

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