Trained to be the aggressor, he couldn't let her have the upper hand. Growling low in his throat, his strong arms lifted her up as his mouth slanted over hers again and again, his tongue sweeping inside to duel with hers, his control damn near shattered when she made that seductive sound of pleasure. He couldn't get enough of her. His hands stroked her back, then moved lower to lift her up against his groin.
They were both panting for breath when she ended the kiss. She clung to him, her faced pressed into his neck as she placed fervent kisses along the column of his throat.
"Don't let go of me," she whispered, knowing that if he did, she'd collapse. The kiss had temporarily robbed her of her strength, and yet all she could think about was kissing him again. She was thoroughly wanton and didn't care a twit.
"Never," he answered. "I'll never let go of you."
He slowly eased her down until her feet were touching the floor again, but he continued to hold her in his arms as he nuzzled the side of her neck. Her sigh was filled with longing.
Reluctant to let go of him, she lay her head down on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Her hand rested over his heart, and she could feel the rapid beat.
"I did make your heart race, didn't I?"
"Yes," he admitted. "You're a temptress, Gillian. You cannot kiss me like that and expect to go on your merry way."
"What would you have me do?"
God, she was innocent. "I'll explain tonight," he promised.
He slowly pulled her arms away from him and reminded her that she was going to the lake with Bridgid.
She had turned toward the doors when he stopped her. "Dylan told me he thought some of the Sinclair soldiers were bothering you."
"There weren't any men with Bridgid and me," she told him once again. "But if there had been and they had been bothering me, I would have handled them."
"No, you would not," he insisted. "You would tell me who they were and I would handle them."
"And what would you do?"
He didn't have to think about his answer long at all. "If any man ever touched you, I would kill him."
The glint in his eyes and the set of his jaw told her he was serious. He suddenly looked quite dangerous. She wasn't the least afraid and she wasn't about to back down.
"You cannot kill—"
He wouldn't let her finish. "It's the Buchanan way," he said emphatically. "You belong to me, and I would not allow any other man to touch you. Now enough of this. There's something I've been meaning to tell you, and now is just as good a time as any."
She waited a long minute for him to continue before she prodded him. "Yes?"
"We do things different here."
"The Buchanans," he qualified. "When we want something, we take it."
"That doesn't seem right."
"It doesn't matter if it seems right or not. It's what we do."
"But it does matter. You could get into trouble with the Church if you take something that doesn't belong to you."
"I'm not worried about the Church."
"You should be," she countered.
Gritting his teeth, he said, "Don't argue with me."
"I'm not arguing. I'm simply stating fact. You needn't get surly."
He gripped her shoulders and hauled her close. "I'm starting over. I'm going to explain, and I want you to follow along."
"Are you insulting me?"
"No, sweetheart. Just listen."
She was so surprised by the endearment, her eyes got misty. "All right," she whispered, "I'll listen. What is it you want to explain?"
"You told me you loved me. You did admit it, didn't you? You can't take the words back."
His vulnerability was showing, and she immediately sought to assure him. "I don't want to take the words back. I do love you."
He relaxed his grip on her arms. "Tonight…"
"I… that is, we… ah, hell."
"Brodick, what in heaven's name is wrong with you?"
"You," he muttered. "You're what's wrong with me."
She pushed his hands away. "Your moods change with the wind. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more important things to do than to stand here and listen to you grumble at me." She swung around, pulled the door open with both hands, and marched outside.
He gave up. He knew he'd made a muck of things, but he figured everything would work tonight. Gillian was an astute woman. Surely by the time he'd taken her clothes off her and carried her to bed, she'd have worked it all out in her mind. If not, then he'd tell her.
Ramsey walked inside, saw Brodick, and immediately guessed what had happened. "You still didn't tell her, did you?"
"No, but God knows I tried."
"It's simple enough, Brodick."
"No, it isn't."
"How about, 'Gillian, you're married'? How complicated is that?"
"I'm telling you, I tried, damn it. If you think it's so easy, you tell her."
Ramsey laughed. "By God, you're afraid to tell her, aren't you?"
"Of course not."
"Yes, you are. What do you think she'll do?"
Brodick quit trying to bluster his way through the conversation. "Yes, I am afraid. She'll run. She'll panic, and then she'll try to run. Damn it, I tricked her, and I shouldn't have done that."
"You also deceived a priest."
"Yes, well… I'm more worried about Gillian. I'm telling you, I shouldn't have tricked her. It was wrong."
"But you'd do it again, wouldn't you?"
With a shrug he admitted he would. "Yes. I can't imagine living without her, and if you laugh at me for admitting such a weakness, I swear I'll put my fist through your face."
Ramsey slapped Brodick's shoulder. "Take heart," he suggested.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Gillian might panic when she first hears she's married to you. Hell, any woman would."
"Ramsey, you're not helping."
"But she won't run, Brodick."
"I'll tell her at supper. Yes," he added with a firm nod, "I'll tell her then."
Brodick all but ripped the door off its hinges as he pulled it open to leave.
The anticipation of finally being reunited with her older sister was almost more than Gillian could handle. As she dressed to meet Ramsey's followers, her hands actually shook and her stomach felt as though it were filled with butterflies.
She wore a golden colored gown with embroidered threads along the hem of the skirt and the wristband of the fitted sleeves. A servant helped her pleat the Buchanan plaid around her waist and drape one end over her shoulder. The fabric was secured with a braided leather belt.
Gillian still wasn't ready to go downstairs just yet, and so she stayed in the chamber Ramsey had assigned to her at the end of the hallway, pacing back and forth in front of the hearth and rehearsing what she would say when she greeted Christen.
Bridgid was sent up to get her. She opened the door, took a step inside, spotted Gillian in the firelight of the hearth, and came to a sudden stop. "Oh, Gillian, you look beautiful. The color suits you."
"Thank you, but I'm pale in comparison to you."
Bridgid laughed. "Aren't we a pair? Praising one another like silly girls."
"I'm sincere. You look radiant, and the man you love will surely notice you tonight."
Bridgid snorted. "I predict he will continue to look right through me. He always does. I'm getting used to it," she added with a nod. "Are you ready to go downstairs?"
"Yes," she answered as she turned to put her brush back on the chest. She steadied her hands and forced herself to take a deep breath. "I'm so excited about seeing my sister again I'm actually trembling."
"Do you think you'll meet her tonight?"
"I do," she answered. "And I've been practicing what I will say to her. I want our reunion to be perfect, and I want her to like me. Isn't that a foolish worry? Of course she'll like me. I'm her sister, for heaven's sake."
"Come along," Bridgid said then. "We mustn't keep Laird Ramsey waiting. Brodick's with him, by the way, and so are Brisbane and Otis. I'll warn you none of them look very happy. Something's wrong, but no one will tell me what it is. I'll wager it has to do with the MacPhersons, though. That man Proster is always making trouble. Anthony and Faudron are constantly complaining about him and his cohorts."
"Who are Anthony and Faudron?" Gillian asked as she pinched her cheeks for color and followed Bridgid out the doorway.
"They're Gideon's close friends, and Gideon is—"
"Yes," Bridgid said. "You rarely see one without the other two, and whenever Gideon is away from the holding, then Anthony takes over his position."
When they reached the bottom step, the door opened and a soldier came hurrying inside. He was tall, thin, and had deep creases in his brow.
"That's Anthony," Bridgid whispered. "I'll introduce you after you've spoken to Ramsey. You shouldn't keep him waiting."
The men were at the far end of the hall. Ramsey and Brodick stood together talking in low whispers while Brisbane and Otis sat at the table watching the lairds. The old men looked as though they'd just lost their best friend. Otis noticed her coming toward them, nudged his friend, and then stood up.
Gillian's smile of greeting faltered when she saw Brodick's expression. He looked furious, and after she had bowed to Ramsey, she folded her hands together and waited to find out what was wrong.
The duty of breaking her heart fell on Brodick's shoulders, and he decided to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. "Your sister has refused to meet with you."
She wouldn't believe what she had just heard. She made him repeat the news.
"Why would she refuse to see me?"
Brodick looked to Brisbane for an answer. The old man scraped his chair on the floor as he pushed it aside and rounded the table. With a long face, he explained, "She's been a MacPherson for almost as long as she can remember, and she feels no loyalty to England."
"What about her family?" Gillian cried out. "Does she feel no loyalty to me and our Uncle Morgan?"
"Her family is here," Brisbane said. "She has a mother and father and—"
She cut him off. "Her mother and father are buried in England."
Brisbane's shoulders sagged even more than was their usual inclination. "And she has a husband," he hurriedly added. "She is… content."
"Content? She's content?" she repeated in a near shout. The picture of her Uncle Morgan came into her mind and she began to shake with fury. A kind, gentle man's life was at stake, and Gillian didn't care how content Christen was.
She took a step toward Brisbane, but Brodick stopped her by putting his arm around her waist and pulling her into his side.
"Try to understand, Lady Gillian," Brisbane pleaded.
"I don't have time to understand," she countered. "I must speak to my sister as soon as possible."
"Did she tell you she wouldn't see Gillian or did her husband speak for her?" Brodick asked.
The question surprised Brisbane, and he mulled it over for several seconds before admitting, "Her husband explained. She didn't speak at all, but she was there, and she heard every word he said. If she didn't agree, she could have protested."
"Does she know that I only want to talk to her? That I won't make any demands?"
"Yes, I told her that you only wanted to see her again, but I don't think she or her husband believed me. Remember, lass, in the past there have been inquiries about her whereabouts. She fears you'll force her to return to England or tell others where she is."
Gillian put her hand to her forehead. "I would do no such thing."
She leaned into Brodick and tried to think. How could she rid her sister of her fears? And how could Christen believe that her own sister would betray her?
"Ramsey?" Brodick called out. "What the hell are you going to do about this?"
"I'll give her one day to change her mind."
"And if she doesn't?" Brisbane asked.
"Then I'll speak to her on Gillian's behalf. If she still refuses, I'll order her to come forward. If I have to drag her here, I will. I would prefer, however, that she come to this decision on her own."
"Her husband won't like it," Brisbane blurted.
"I don't give a damn if he likes it or not," Ramsey said.
"He's a proud MacPherson." Otis stepped forward to join in the heated discussion.
"He's a Sinclair now," Ramsey snapped. "He pledged his loyalty to me, did he not?"
"All the MacPhersons did," Brisbane said.
"The MacPherson soldiers are all loyal to you, Laird," Otis said. "But since you have brought up this issue, I will tell you that every one of them has been made to feel as though they are outcasts, especially the soldiers. Your commander, Gideon, and his soldiers, Anthony and Faudron, constantly ridicule and mock their efforts. The MacPhersons have still not been trained properly, and I tell you this, there will be an insurrection if something isn't done and soon."
Ramsey didn't immediately respond to the fervent speech, but Brodick knew he was furious.
"Are you suggesting that Ramsey pamper or give special consideration to the MacPherson soldiers?" Brodick asked.
Otis shook his head. "I'm suggesting they only be given a fair chance to show their strength."
"Tomorrow I will take charge of the training, and when Gideon returns, I'll discuss the problem with him," Ramsey stated. "Does that satisfy you?"
Otis appeared vastly relieved. "Yes, thank you."
Brisbane sought to be as accommodating as Ramsey. "With your permission, Laird, I would like to return to Lady Gillian's sister first thing in the morning. I'll stress the fact that Lady Gillian has promised me she only wants to talk to her sister." He looked pointedly at Gillian when he made the last remark.