Johanna tried to talk to Clare later in the morning; but as soon as she started asking questions, Clare became weary and fell asleep again.

Megan took a turn sitting with Clare that afternoon so Hilda could supervise the preparations for dinner. Johanna thought to try and question her patient once again, but she was waylaid when her husband came striding into the great hall with his son at his side.


Johanna had just finished removing Calum’s stitches. She was trying to make him pay attention to her while she gave him instructions. He was like a fidgety child, anxious to get back outside.

“You aren’t leaving until you promise to apply this salve every morning and night for a week’s time, Calum.”

“I promise,” the soldier replied. He jumped to his feet and went hurrying across the room, leaving the jar of salve on the table.

“I’m here!”

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Alex bellowed his important announcement and spread his arms wide in a gesture so dramatic his father couldn’t help but smile. The boy certainly didn’t have a problem with his own self-worth. Of course Gabriel had assured him several times on the way back home that Johanna was anxious to see him.

His wife’s reaction was just as amusing to Gabriel. She let out a loud gasp, picked up her skirts, and ran across the hall to greet Alex.

The little boy threw himself into her arms. She hugged him tight. The top of his head only reached her waist. He was such an adorable little boy, and she was so happy to have him home, her eyes filled with tears.

Gabriel left the two of them and went upstairs to try to talk to Clare MacKay once again. He was determined to find out the name of the warrior who had disgraced the woman. He also wanted to give her the news that her father would be arriving tomorrow to take her back home, providing of course that she was strong enough.

Gabriel came back downstairs a few minutes later. Clare was still too ill to answer his questions. Why, she was so exhausted, she fell asleep a scant minute after he’d explained his reason for the audience.

Johanna and Alex were waiting for him at the bottom of the steps.

“Is something wrong, husband?” she asked when she spotted the frown on his face.

“Every time I try to talk to the MacKay woman, she falls asleep. How long do you think it will be before she’s strong enough to answer my questions?”

“I don’t know, Gabriel,” she answered. “You saw what she looked like the day she came here. It’s going to take time for her to mend. Be patient with her.” she suggested with a nod. “It’s a miracle she’s alive.”

“I suppose it is,” he agreed. “Johanna, her father’s coming here tomorrow to take her back home.”

She didn’t like hearing that news. She shook her head. “Clare’s in no condition to go anywhere. Her father’s going to have to understand.”

Gabriel wasn’t in the mood to argue with his wife. The joy he’d seen on her face when Alex had run to her had filled him with such pleasure and contentment. He didn’t want to mar the reunion with important talk now. Tonight would be soon enough to discuss Clare’s future.

“Why don’t you take Alex outside, wife. It’s too fine a day to stay inside.”

His attention was centered on his son now. Alex was holding Johanna’s hand and staring up at her in true wonder. It suddenly occurred to Gabriel that the boy was in desperate need of a mother. Just as revealing was the fact that Johanna needed Alex almost as much.

“Yes, it is a fine day.” Johanna said. A look of tenderness had come into Gabriel’s eyes. He was being very unguarded now. The love he felt for his son was most apparent.

Lord, she was feeling emotional today. She knew she was about to burst into tears and turned so that her husband wouldn’t see her distress. He wouldn’t understand of course. Men believed women only wept when they were unhappy or in pain, or so Johanna believed, but her tears were simply an emotional response to the wonderful feeling of happiness and contentment she was feeling. God had blessed her. She was barren, yet now had a son to love. Aye, she would love Alex, for it simply wasn’t possible for her to steel her heart against such an innocent child.

“Could we go and see the horses, Mama?”

She burst into tears. Both Gabriel and his son were horrified. “Johanna, what’s wrong with you?” Her husband’s concern sharpened his voice to a near bellow.

“We don’t have to see the horses,” Alex blurted out, thinking he might be the cause of her distress.

Johanna tried to regain her control. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes with the hem of her plaid before trying to explain.

“Nothing’s wrong,” she told her husband. “Alex called me mama. He took me by surprise, you see, and I seem to be very emotional today.”

“Papa said I should call you mama,” Alex . said. “He said you’d like it.”

The little boy’s face was puckered in a frown. He was obviously fretting. Johanna hurried to soothe him. “Your father was correct. You should call me mama.”

“Then why are you crying like a baby?” Alex asked.

She smiled. “Because you make me happy,” she answered. “Alex, it’s too fine a day to stay inside. Let’s go and see the horses.”

She tried to leave. Gabriel reached out and grabbed her by her shoulders. “First you’ll tell me thank you for bringing your son home,” he announced.

He wanted praise, she supposed. “I’ll thank you later, m’lord, when I’m ready.”

She stretched up on tiptoe and kissed him. She heard Alex make a gagging sound and burst into laughter. Gabriel smiled. He watched his wife and his son go outside. Then he followed them and stood on the top step. He continued to watch his wife and his son until they disappeared down the hill.

“What has you smiling so, Laird?”

Father MacKechnie climbed up the steps and stopped by his laird’s side.

“I was watching my family,” Gabriel answered.

Father MacKechnie nodded. “A handsome family you have, son. God’s blessed the three of you.”

Gabriel didn’t consider himself a religious man, yet he found he had to agree with the priest’s evaluation. When he was young and foolish, he’d prayed for a family. Now he had Alex and Johanna to call his own. Fair was fair, he decided, and he guessed he’d have to give his Maker his due. He had answered his prayer after all.

Johanna’s laughter echoed across the courtyard then, interrupting Gabriel’s thoughts. He instinctively smiled. Damn but he liked the sound of her joy.

Johanna didn’t have any idea her husband was listening to her. Alex was so filled with enthusiasm and excitement to be outside he couldn’t maintain a slow pace. He ran so fast the heels of his feet smacked his backside. She could barely keep up with him.

They spent the afternoon together. They looked over the horses first, then made their way down to the meadow to visit Auggie. The old warrior had just returned from the ridge and looked like he was in a foul mood.

“What has you scowling, Auggie?” Johanna called out.

Alex saw the soldier’s glare and immediately edged behind Johanna’s skirts.

“It’s all right, Alex,” she whispered. “Auggie likes to grumble, but he has a kind heart.”

“Like Papa?”

Johanna smiled. “Yes,” she answered, thinking what a clever child Alex was. He was perceptive, too.

Auggie waited until the pair reached him before giving an answer for his frown. “I’m ready to give up my game,” he announced with a dramatic nod. “It’s no use hitting the stones any distance. Most crumble from the force of the whack I give them. They splinter in the air. No point to it then, is there now? Who’s that hiding behind you, peeking up at me with such wide blue eyes?”

“This is Alex,” Johanna answered. “Do you remember Gabriel’s son?”

“Of course I remember the lad,” Auggie answered. “But I’m in the middle of a sour mood, Johanna. I’m not fit for company today. Go away and leave me to my pout.”

Johanna tried not to laugh. “Couldn’t you spare a few minutes to show Alex how to strike the stones into the holes here in the meadow?”

“No, I couldn’t spare a few minutes,” Auggie muttered even as he motioned the little boy over to his side. “This isn’t a child’s game. How old are you, boy?”

Alex had a death grip on Johanna’s hand. He wasn’t about to leave her side. She had to walk with him over to Auggie.

“Alex doesn’t know how old he is,” Johanna explained. “I’m thinking he’s four or five summers.”

Auggie rubbed his jaw with concentration. “Open your mouth, boy. Let me have a look at your teeth. I can tell you how old you are.”

Johanna burst into laughter. “He isn’t a horse,” she said.

“When it comes to teeth, they could be the same, at least with the young ones.”

Alex tilted his head up and opened his mouth. Auggie nodded with approval. “You’ve been taking good care of your teeth, haven’t you now?”

“Papa showed me how to rub them with green haze! and wipe them with a woolen cloth,” Alex answered. “I only forget some of the time.”

Auggie squinted against the sunlight as he bent down to have a good look.

“He’s close to five, I’m guessing. He couldn’t be any older. His first teeth are still nice and tight,” he explained after he’d reached in and tried to wiggle Alex’s two top front teeth. “Too snug for six and two big for three. Aye, he’s going on five. I’d wager my game on it.”

Alex was finally allowed to close his mouth. He turned his gaze up to Johanna. “I’m five?”

“Almost,” she answered. “We’ll have to choose a day and give you a proper birthday celebration, Alex. Then you’ll officially become five.”

Alex had gotten over his fear of the leathery-looking warrior and now begged to play the game. Auggie spent close to two hours supervising the child. Alex didn’t understand the word concentrate and he talked nonstop all the while. Auggie was extremely patient with the boy, but he did cast several glares in Johanna’s direction every now and again. Alex couldn’t seem to remember he was to keep quiet when Auggie was about to strike his stone.

Johanna sat on the side of the hill to watch the pair. She listened to Auggie tell stories about the past, and it soon became apparent to her that Alex was in awe of the warrior. He begged to hear more.

The sun was setting and Alex had started yawning when Johanna finally called a halt to the entertainment. She stood up, adjusted the pleats of her plaid, and started to thank Auggie.

She didn’t remember what happened next. She opened her eyes and found both Auggie and Alex leaning over her. Alex was crying. Auggie was gently patting the side of her face and trying to soothe the boy at the same time.

It didn’t take Johanna any time at all to realize what had happened.

“Oh, Lord, I fainted again, didn’t I?”

“Again?” Auggie asked, his brow wrinkled with worry. He helped his mistress sit up. Alex immediately sat down on her lap and leaned against her chest. He obviously needed her assurance, she decided. She put her arm around the child and gave him a quick hug.

“I’m quite all right now, Alex.”

“You fainted before?” Auggie persisted.

Johanna nodded. The movement made her head spin. “Last night,” she answered. “Gabriel caught me. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have any warning.”

“It sure as certain was quick,” Auggie agreed. He squatted on the ground next to Johanna and continued to brace her back with his arms. “You were standing one minute and flat on the ground looking as dead as a corpse the next.”

Auggie was deliberately trying to make light of the topic for the child’s sake. He hid his worry as best he could.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with me,” she whispered.

“You’d best go and see Glynis,” Auggie advised. “She knows a few healing tricks.”

“She wanted to sew Calum’s arm, so she must have some experience,” Johanna remarked. “Yes, I’ll go and see her tomorrow.”

“No,” Auggie countered. “You’ll go now. I’ll take Alex home.”

From the stubborn set of his jaw, Johanna knew it would be pointless to argue with the man. “All right then,” she agreed. She turned her attention to her son.

“Alex, let’s not mention this faint to your father. We don’t want to worry him, do we?”

“Shame on you telling the boy not to ...”

“Auggie, I’m thinking of Gabriel’s feelings now,” Johanna argued. “I don’t want him to worry.”

Auggie nodded agreement. He had every intention of telling his laird what had happened, of course; and when his mistress pitched a fit, he’d remind her she hadn’t made him give her his promise not to stay a word.

Both he and Alex accompanied Johanna to Glynis’s door. They left her there, but only after Auggie pounded on the door and the Maclaurin woman had answered the summons.

“Lady Johanna’s got a complaint to give you,” Auggie announced. “Come along, boy. It’s time for your supper.”

“Have I done something to displease you, m’lady?” Glynis asked.

Johanna shook her head. She motioned her over to the rock ledge away from the entrance so that Glynis’s husband wouldn’t chance to overhear the conversation.

“Please sit down, Glynis,” she requested. “A friend of mine is ill and I would like to gain your advice on what’s to be done to help her.”

Glynis immediately looked relieved. She sat on the ledge, folded her hands in her lap, and waited for Johanna to continue.

“Twice now this woman has fainted for no apparent reason,” Johanna blurted out. She stood in front of the Maclaurin woman and waited for her response to that news.

Glynis simply nodded. Johanna didn’t know what to make of that reaction.

“Is she dying of some dread disease?”

Johanna was wringing her hands together now and trying not to let Glynis see how upset she was.

“She could be,” Glynis replied. “I’m needing more facts before I give you my suggestions for treatment, m’lady. Is your friend young or old?”


“Is she married?”

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