"Yes, that is all I want," she assured him.
After Ramsey agreed, Brodick said, "Brisbane, when you speak to her, make certain her husband isn't in the room. He could be making the decisions for her."
"Why do you think that?" she asked.
"It's what I'd do."
"But why?" she pressed.
"Your sister's husband would certainly try to protect her."
Brisbane rubbed his jaw. "Now that I reflect upon the meeting, I'll tell you I believe that's exactly what happened. I don't believe she had a say in the matter."
What they said made sense, and Gillian began to relax. She grabbed hold of the idea that it was Christen's husband who was denying her and not her sister. She didn't fault the man, for as Brodick had suggested, he was only trying to protect his wife. But she believed with all her heart that if she could just spend a few minutes with Christen, she would be able to put her fears to rest.
"You're going to have to be patient a little longer," Brodick said.
"I don't have time to be patient."
He kissed her forehead and whispered, "I don't want you to worry about this tonight. Put it aside for now. Tonight should be a joyous occasion."
"Why? What happens tonight?"
Her face was turned up toward his, and he simply couldn't resist the temptation. He kissed her sweet, soft lips. Because they weren't alone, he didn't deepen the kiss, but it damn near killed him, and when he pulled back, his frustration was palpable. He wasn't used to denying himself, and even though he only had to wait a few more hours to make her completely his, he was tense in anticipation.
And worried. In truth, he wasn't sure how she was going to react to finding out she was married, and the not knowing was making him as edgy as a caged animal.
He swallowed, took a deep breath, and then said, "Gillian, I have something to tell you." He cleared his throat again and said, "I want you to know that…"
"You see… damn, your eyes are pretty."
What in heaven's name was the matter with him? If she didn't know better she would have thought he was actually nervous. That was ridiculous of course, because Brodick was one of the most self-assured men she'd ever known. She waited another couple of seconds for him to tell her what was on his mind, then tried to help him. "Did you want to tell me something about tonight?"
Sweat broke out on his brow. "Yes," he said. "It's about tonight." He gripped her arms as he added, "I don't want you to be upset. What's done is done, and you're just going to have to come to terms with it."
Thoroughly confused, she asked, "Come to terms with what?"
He let out a loud sigh. "Hell," he muttered. "I cannot believe I'm having so much trouble getting the words out."
"Brodick, what's going to happen tonight?"
Brisbane and Otis were hanging on their every word, but Ramsey diverted their attention by escorting them outdoors. Having privacy didn't make Brodick's task any easier, and he decided to wait a little longer. He'd do it during supper, he decided. Yes, he'd take her aside and tell her then.
"I asked you a question," she reminded him. "What happens tonight?"
"You're going to make me very happy."
It wasn't what he said but how he said it, in such a sensual gruff whisper, that sent tremors racing through her middle. All he had to do was look at her with those beautiful eyes of his and she melted. His smoldering gaze robbed her of the ability to think. She couldn't even remember what he had just said to her, and since he seemed to need a response, she said on a sigh, "That's nice."
For the next two hours Gillian stood on the steps with Ramsey at her side as each man came forward to meet her. Brodick stood behind her, and when weariness set in and she began to shift her weight from foot to foot, he coaxed her to lean back against him.
A good number of the followers brought their wives with them, and Gillian noticed that all the females stared starry-eyed at Ramsey and warily at Brodick.
How in heaven's name was she going to find the traitor among so many? Impossible, she thought, as impossible as finding a Highlander who was fond of King John.
It seemed to her that she looked at a thousand faces by the time sunset colored the sky. The light was rapidly fading, and with Ramsey's command, soldiers lit fiery torches around the perimeter of the courtyard and the edge of the path beyond.
"What reason did you give your followers for assembling?" she asked Ramsey in a whisper.
"I didn't give them a reason," he replied. "They're here because I have requested their presence."
His arrogance made her smile. Then Brodick, gruff as usual, suggested she pay attention to the task at hand.
Yet another hour passed as she greeted each man and woman who came forward. Her stomach began to rumble, and she was shivering from the cold breeze, so she pressed her back against Brodick to gain more of his heat.
There was one moment of levity. The two boys who had tried to steal kisses from her and Bridgid came forward together. They looked as though the blood had drained from their faces as both, with eyes bulging, stared at Brodick.
"Good evening, Donal," she said.
The soldier's knees buckled and he went down hard. His friend grabbed him by the arm and hauled him upright, but he never once looked at him. No, his gaze was glued to Brodick.
"Do you know this man?" Ramsey asked.
Donal held his breath while he waited for her to answer. She heard Bridgid laugh.
"Yes, I do know him. I was introduced to him earlier today."
"And the other one?" Brodick asked.
Stewart looked as if he were going to cry. "I met him as well," she said.
"Where did you meet them?" Brodick asked, a decided chill in his voice now. "Were you on the hill by chance?"
She gave him an. indirect answer. "Donal and Stewart are friends of Bridgid's. She introduced me to them."
She put her hand on top of Brodick's. "Let it go," she whispered.
He decided to let her have her way. The last group to come forward was led by an angry looking young man with an arrogant swagger much like Brodick's. His brown hair hung down in his face as he strutted forward, gave a curt nod to his laird in lieu of a formal bow, and then turned to leave.
Ramsey stopped him. "Proster, come back here."
The soldier stiffened, then did as he was ordered. The young men who had come forward with him quickly moved back to give him room.
"You and your friends will train with me tomorrow."
Proster's demeanor changed in a flash. He acted as though he'd just received manna from heaven.
"All of my friends with me now? There are eight of us."
"All of you," Ramsey said.
"And will I have an opportunity to fight you, Laird?"
"But eight men against one. It hardly seems fair."
"To you or to me?"
"The numbers are in our favor, not yours," the soldier pointed out.
Ramsey glanced at Brodick. "Are you interested?"
"Definitely," Brodick answered.
Ramsey turned back to the soldier. "Laird Buchanan will join me. Don't worry, Proster. I won't let him kill you or your friends."
The young soldier openly scoffed at the notion. "I look forward to sparring with both of you on the battlefield. Do you wish to fight with weapons or without?"
"You may use your weapons if that is your inclination. Laird Buchanan and I will use our bare hands."
"But, Laird, when I… I mean to say, if I beat you, I want it to be fair."
Ramsey smiled. "I assure you it will be fair," he said. "Be on the field at dawn."
Proster bowed and then went hurrying away with his comrades, no doubt to plan their strategy for tomorrow's games.
Bridgid had watched and listened to the exchange from the side of the steps. She couldn't stop herself from interfering. "Laird?"
"Proster and his friends will use their swords. How can you defend yourself against them?"
Gillian responded as well. Whirling around to confront Brodick, she said, "Don't you dare hurt those boys."
"You aren't concerned that they will have weapons?"
"We both know that you and Ramsey will rid them of their swords before they've even gotten them out of their scabbards. I mean what I say, Brodick. I don't want you to hurt them. Promise me," she insisted.
He rolled his eyes. "When Ramsey and I are finished with them, their arrogance and insolence will be gone. That I promise you."
Ramsey was in full agreement. "They'll have humility when they leave my battlefield."
The discussion ended when another group of latecomers hurried forward to bow to their laird. Ramsey watched Gillian for some sign of recognition, but she shook her head.
Feeling as though she had somehow failed, she whispered, "I'm sorry. I don't see him."
"I thought for certain you'd recognize one of Proster's friends," Ramsey admitted.
"You don't believe they're loyal to you?"
"They have resisted the union of the clans," he explained. "Still, I find I'm glad it wasn't one of them. They're very young, and I would hate…"
He didn't give her any further explanation, and she didn't press him.
Brodick said what she was thinking. "You're so certain it's a MacPherson?"
"I was," he admitted. "I'm not any longer. Hell, the Hamiltons or the Boswells could be hiding the bastard. Both clans have good reason to want to see the union with the MacPhersons fail."
The men continued to discuss the matter as they went in for the banquet the servants had prepared. Gillian wanted Bridgid to join them at the supper table, but she had disappeared. Gillian didn't see her again until the meal was over.
Her friend motioned to her from the back hallway.
"Gillian, may I have a word in private with you?" Bridgid asked. "I was listening when Brisbane told you that your sister refuses to see you, and I wanted you to know how sorry I am. I know you must be terribly disappointed."
"I was disappointed," she replied. "But I'm still hopeful that she'll change her mind."
"Ramsey will order her to come forward. I heard him say so."
"Yes, but not until the day after tomorrow at the earliest. He wants to give her a chance to do the right thing, I suppose. Still, I hate having to wait."
"If you knew where she lived, what would you do?"
Gillian didn't have to think about her answer. "I would immediately go to her. I don't have unlimited time to wait for her to change her mind."
"I might be able to help you," Bridgid whispered. "Anthony also heard what Brisbane said, and he's offered to follow him tomorrow morning when he goes to plead with your sister again."
"Will he get into trouble for doing me this favor?"
"He thinks he's doing me the favor," Bridgid explained. "Besides, Anthony's second-in-command under Gideon, and he can pretty much do whatever he wants. If anyone gets into trouble, it's going to be me, but I'm not worried because no one's going to find out. Anthony will tell me where she lives, and then I'll tell you. If my laird bows to pressure from Brisbane and decides to delay your meeting with Christen, then you can take matters into your own hands."
"Why would he bow to pressure?"
"Brisbane is an elder in the MacPherson clan, and my laird respects him. He also doesn't want to order Christen if he doesn't have to. Her family has gone to great lengths to make sure her identity has remained secret."
"I'm her family."
"I know," Bridgid whispered. She patted Gillian's hand. "Brisbane could come back with Christen tomorrow."
"But you don't think he will, do you?"
"She's remained hidden for years. No, I don't think she'll willingly come."
"Will you take me to her?"
"I want to go tomorrow afternoon."
"You've been ordered to wait."
"Not ordered," Gillian argued. "Brodick suggested I be patient."
"All right, then. We'll go tomorrow afternoon."
Gillian glanced at Brodick, then whispered, "I'm going to have to figure out a way to get rid of Brodick's men. They follow me like shadows."
"They didn't follow you to the lake."
"No, of course not. They knew I was going to bathe."
Bridgid grinned. "Well then? Simply tell them you're going to the lake."
"I hate having to lie to them. I've become quite fond of Brodick's guard."
"But if we do go to the lake first, then you wouldn't have to lie, would you?"
Gillian burst into laughter. "You have the mind of a criminal."
"What are you two whispering about?" Ramsey called from the table.
"Foolish matters," Bridgid replied. "Laird, Fiona has graciously offered to sew some new gowns for Gillian so that she won't have to borrow from others, but she needs to measure her. Could we see to this chore now? It shouldn't take long."
As soon as they were out of earshot, Ramsey asked Brodick, "When are you going to get the names of the Englishmen from Gillian? Iain grows impatient. He wants to move, and so do I."
"Tonight," Brodick promised.
"The women have prepared one of the new cottages for you and Gillian, unless you'd rather use one of the chambers upstairs."
"The cottage will afford more privacy," Brodick said. "But I'd rather we stayed outside."
"Your bride deserves a bed on her wedding night," Ramsey said, and Brodick nodded in agreement.
The revelry began with Father Laggan's arrival. Calling out his congratulations, he demanded supper, and while the servants saw to the priest's needs, Brodick paced and waited for Gillian.
In a very short while, the hall was filled with Sinclairs. Brodick's soldiers didn't mingle with the others until kegs of ale were carried in and a rowdy Sinclair boasted that he could arm wrestle any Buchanan to the floor without breaking a sweat. Black Robert meant to prove him wrong, and the game was on.