And when that happened, she knew she'd feel a glimmer of disappointment.

"Aye, she will be miserable," Brodick said.

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Ramsey burst into laughter. "You told her the truth, then. I don't envy anyone, man or woman, who would try to fit in with those savages you call Buchanans."

"I won't be miserable," Gillian cried out. "And do you know why?"

The men acted as though they hadn't heard her question. Iain siezed on her first comment. "There, do you see? She already has an optimistic outlook. That's a fair start."

"Will you gentlemen stop jesting?" Gillian demanded. She had finally regained her senses and was determined to put an end to the discussion.

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"I don't think they're jesting," Judith said. She moved closer to Gillian and whispered, "If you haven't already figured it out, I feel I should probably explain…"

Gillian threaded her fingers through her hair in agitation. "Explain what?" she asked frantically.

"They never jest. I do believe Brodick means to marry you."

Chapter Sixteen

"Brodick, I would like a word in private with you." Her clipped words didn't leave room for discussion, and she didn't even try to mask her anger. She wanted him to know she was furious.

"Not now, Gillian," he replied impatiently, seemingly unaffected by her show of temper. "Ramsey, we'll leave in ten minutes. Can you be ready by then?"

"Of course," Ramsey answered, and after bowing to Gillian and Judith, he started back up the hill.

Iain threw his arm around his wife's shoulders and turned to the west. "Before I go back to my duties, let's look in on the boys. They just went to Patrick and Frances Catherine's home."

Judith didn't have much choice, for her husband was pulling her along. "You promised to take them fishing," she reminded him.

"No, Alec promised on my behalf."

"But you will take them?"

"Of course I will." He laughed. "And I won't let them drown," he added, repeating Michael's promise to his brother.

Brodick continued to stand beside Gillian, but he wasn't paying any attention to her. He was fully occupied trying to locate Dylan in the field below, where over a hundred Maitland soldiers were training.

Gillian watched the group of women as they picked up their skirts and ran together up the hill. Most of them were giggling like little girls.

"What are they doing?"

Brodick glanced at the women. "Chasing Ramsey," he answered very matter-of-factly before returning to his task of scanning the field.

"Why?"

"Why what?" he asked as he continued to search.

She sighed. "Why are the ladies chasing him?"

The question startled him, for what should have been obvious to Gillian appeared not to be obvious at all. With a shrug, he said, "It's what they all do."

"All the ladies chase him?" she asked, still not understanding.

He finally gave her his full attention. "Yes, they do," he said quietly.

"But why?"

"You don't know?"

"I wouldn't ask if I knew, Brodick," she said, thoroughly perplexed.

"They find him… handsome," he finally said for lack of a better word. "That's what I've been told anyway."

"He's very nice and quite polite, but I can't imagine chasing after him just because he's attractive."

"The women don't care about his behavior or his character. They like looking at him."

She shook her head. "I know what you're trying to do. You're just trying to make me laugh so I'll forget about your arrogant claims in front of your friends."

"I swear to you, I'm telling the truth. Women like to look at Ramsey, and that's why they chase after him. You don't think him handsome?"

"I hadn't really thought about it until now, but I suppose he is," she said. "Yes, of course he is," she added with a bit more conviction so Brodick wouldn't think she was trying to find fault with his friend. "Iain's also very handsome. I'm surprised that the ladies don't chase after you. After all, you're much more…"

She stopped herself in time. Heaven help her, she was about to tell him how attractive he was. His earthy masculinity bordered on downright sinful. Just being near him made her want to think about things that were wanton and certainly unladylike, but strumpets had those kinds of thoughts. They were lustful; she wasn't. At least not until Brodick came into her life and turned it upside down.

Oh, she wasn't about to let him know how he affected her. The last thing she wanted to do was build his arrogance. Brodick already had enough to last a lifetime. "I'm much more what?" he asked.

She shook her head and tried to ignore his penetrating gaze. "I know why ladies don't chase you," she said. "It's because you scare them."

He laughed. "That's good to know."

"And you frown all the time."

"Ah, there's Dylan."

Without so much as a fare-thee-well, Brodick strode away. She couldn't believe his lack of courtesy; he hadn't even bothered to glance her way first. He just took off.

"Oh, no you don't," she whispered. "You're not getting away from me." Muttering to herself, she picked up her skirts and hurried down the hill.

"Brodick, I insist on having a word with you, and I don't care if you want to listen or not," she called out, but since he was so far ahead of her, she doubted he heard a word she said.

She didn't mean to pick up the pace, but the hill was much steeper than she'd judged, and before she realized what was happening, she was running and couldn't seem to slow down.

She propelled herself right into the middle of a sword fight. "I beg your pardon," she stammered when she bumped into a soldier.

The man didn't hear her, but he obviously felt her ram into his back. Believing another soldier was trying to best him from behind, he whirled around, raised his sword, and was swinging it downward in a wide arc when he discovered whom he was about to strike.

His startled shout reached the treetops. Gillian jumped back and collided with another soldier. She quickly turned to him and said, "I'm so sorry."

Then he shouted. Mortified by the turmoil she was causing, and not knowing where to turn, she whirled in a circle and then stood in the thick of the mock battle, surrounded by large, panting soldiers who were fighting as though their lives depended on it. None of them seemed to realize they were merely training.

In the chaos, she lost sight of Brodick.

"Please excuse me for interrupting you," she apologized as she gently pushed her way through the crowd.

Brodick let out a roar that caused her heart to miss a beat. Then everyone began to shout. With a resigned sigh, she knew that she was the reason why.

The fighting had stopped, and she was circled by a ring of incredulous warriors staring down at her as though she had just dropped out of the sky.

"I'm so sorry, gentlemen. I didn't mean to interrupt your training. I really am… oh, there's Brodick. Please let me pass."

The men appeared too stupefied to move. Brodick's bellowed command got through to them, however, and within seconds a wide path was formed. Brodick stood at one end with his legs braced apart, his hands on his hips, and a scowl on his face.

She thought it would be a good idea to go the other way, but when she glanced over her shoulder, she saw that Dylan and Winslow were blocking that end. Winslow looked as though he wanted to kill her. Dylan just looked plain astonished.

Feeling trapped, she decided she was going to have to bluster her way through this embarrassment, and straightening her shoulders, she slowly walked to the man who she believed was solely responsible for turning her into a simpleton.

"For the love of God, Gillian, what were you thinking? You could have been killed."

A loud grumble of agreement washed over the crowd. Her face burning, she forced herself to turn to her disgruntled audience. She folded her hands together as though in prayer and repeated, "I am so sorry. I started down the hill, and before I knew what was happening, I was running. I apologize, gentlemen, for interrupting you and causing you concern."

The sincerity in her voice and her heartfelt apology both placated and pleased the soldiers. Several actually bowed to her, while others nodded to let her know they forgave her her transgression. She was beginning to feel better, but then she turned back to Brodick, and that feeling immediately evaporated. His scowl was hot enough to make the sun break out in a sweat. "I wanted to speak to you," she said.

His head down like a bull, he charged toward her. When he reached her, he didn't slow down. He simply clasped hold of her hand and kept right on going. She didn't have any choice. She could either walk with him—which meant run, because his stride was much longer and quicker than hers—or she could be dragged along behind him like a rag doll.

"Let go of me or slow down," she demanded as she tried to keep pace with him.

He slowed down. "I swear to God, you try the patience of a saint."

"You aren't a saint, Brodick, no matter what your mother might have told you."

The bull actually smiled. "Ah, but you do please me, Gillian. 'Tis the truth you do."

She wasn't in the mood for compliments, especially when given in such a bewildered tone.

"Then I'm about to make you—"

"Delirious?" he asked, remembering her comment from the night before.

"Yes, you will be delirious, and do you know why?"

"No," he replied dryly, "but you're going to tell me, aren't you?"

He sounded resigned. She refused to take insult. "I'm letting you off the hook."

"Meaning?"

"You don't have to worry about my reputation any longer. If I'm not going to be concerned about it, then why should you?"

"I see."

"You don't have to marry me."

"Is that right?"

He suddenly veered to the line of trees where Ramsey's admirers had gathered earlier.

"Where are you dragging me now?"

"We need some privacy."

She didn't argue or point out the fact that she had asked him for a moment of privacy just minutes before he went chasing after Dylan. The sooner she explained her position the better, she thought, before they were interrupted or he went running away again.

"I know why you offered."

"Offered what?" he asked with a glance at her.

"Will you please pay attention. You were just being gallant when you made the suggestion to marry me."

"Suggestion?" he scoffed. "Gillian, I don't make suggestions. I give orders. See the difference?"

She refused to waste time trying to appease him. "This isn't the time for diplomacy," she said. "I have to make you understand that you don't have to be noble. It's all my fault, really it is. I realize that now. I shouldn't have asked you to come with me to Ramsey's home. I backed you into a corner, and that was wrong of me."

"No one's ever backed me into a corner," he said, highly insulted by her remark. "I did what I wanted to do and what I felt was necessary."

"You aren't responsible for me."

He pulled her along to a secluded spot in the woods as she rambled on and on about his reasons for doing what he had done. She had obviously thought it over and worked it all out in her mind. She had it all wrong, of course, but he decided to wait until she was finished explaining his motives to him before he set her straight.

When they reached an open circle of trees, he let go of her hand, leaned back against a fat tree trunk, folded his arms across his chest, and waited for her to finish lecturing him.

He tried to concentrate on what she was saying, but he became distracted. She was such a sight with her cheeks flushed and her golden brown hair curling about her shoulders. He knew she didn't have any idea how beautiful she was. Appearances weren't important to her, and he thought that a refreshing difference between her and other women he'd known. Her eyes had turned a deep emerald color. There was definitely passion simmering below the surface, and he had a sudden, almost overwhelming need to take her into his arms and never let go.

"Now do you understand?"

What the hell was she talking about now? "Understand what?" he asked, realizing then he hadn't heard a word she'd said.

"Haven't you been listening?" she cried out in frustration.

"No."

Her shoulders slumped. "Brodick, I'm not going to marry you." She shook her head. "I won't let you be noble."

"Gillian?"

"Yes?"

"Do you like being with me?"

She pretended not to understand because it was safer than allowing him to push her into admitting all those feelings she was desperately trying to keep hidden.

"Do you mean… now?"

"You know exactly what I mean."

"Brodick—"

"Answer me."

She bowed her head. "Yes, I do like being with you… very much," she admitted. "But that doesn't matter," she added in a rush. "We've known each other a very short time, and you have to go home. I'm sure you have many pressing duties waiting for you. You are the Buchanan laird, after all."

"I know what the hell I am," he snapped.

She snapped back, giving him a dose of his own tactics. "Don't you dare take that tone with me. I won't put up with it."

When he suddenly broke into a grin, her temper flared. "Do you find my criticism amusing?"

"I find you utterly refreshing."

She had trouble catching her breath. "You do?"

"Yes, I do. Not many women would speak to me the way you do. 'Tis the truth you're the first," he added a bit sheepishly. "I shouldn't allow such insolence," he added.

"I don't believe I was being insolent, and I'm not usually critical of others, but you make me lose my senses."

"That's good to know."

Exasperated, she took a step toward him and shook her head. "I wish you would stop trying to confuse me by changing the subject. You're making this very difficult for me. I'm simply trying to—"

"Let me off the hook?"

She sighed. "Yes."

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