“I will not lose you.”

“No, you will not lose me.”


She walked forward and took hold of his hand. Tears filled her eyes as she stared up at the wonderful man trying to glare some sense into her.

He loved her. He hadn’t given her the words yet, but the proof was there in his eyes. Johanna felt overwhelmed.

They went up the steps leading to the entrance together. She could feel him shaking. She didn’t want him to worry any longer, and so she stopped at the foot of the stairs leading up to the bedchambers and turned to her husband.

The men were all craning their necks to see what was happening, but they were too far away to hear the conversation.

“Gabriel, do you remember my concern before we were married?”

“You had too many concerns for me to keep track of, wife. Don’t push my hands away. I’m going to carry you upstairs. Don’t you realize you could break your neck if you fainted while trying to climb these steep steps? You may not be worried about your welfare, but I sure as hell am.”

He knew he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. He didn’t like feeling this vulnerable. “What will your mother say when she arrives and finds her daughter dead?” he muttered.

She smiled. “Mama’s going to like you, Gabriel.”

Her husband looked exasperated. He lifted her into his arms. She immediately kissed him.

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“You’re still going to bed,” he announced.

“On the night after we were married, I told you I was barren.”

“No, you didn’t. Nicholas told me.”

She nodded. “On our wedding night, I’m certain I mentioned it.”

He nodded. “Yes, you did,” he said. “Several times in fact. ”

He started up the steps. She rested her head against his shoulder. Her fingers were fully occupied stroking the back of his neck.

She wondered if their baby would have her husband’s coloring. She thought she might like to have a little girl, then decided she would be just as happy with a boy.

“I’m not,” she whispered with a sigh.

She waited for him to understand. He didn’t say anything until they reached their bedchamber.

“Did you hear what I just said? I’m not,” she repeated.

“You’re not what?”

“I’m not barren.”

He opened the door but hesitated at the threshold. His gaze was fully directed on his wife. He slowly lowered her to the floor. “Do you honestly believe it matters to me? You and Alex are all the family I want. I don’t need another child. Damn it, woman, haven’t you realized yet how much I . . . you mean more to ...”

Hell, he was rambling like an old woman. He motioned for her to go inside. “Warriors do not concern themselves with matters of love,” he muttered.

He looked miserable. She didn’t smile. She knew he didn’t like telling her what he was feeling.

It was a trait they both shared, she realized.

“Gabriel ...”

“I don’t ever want you to bring up the fact that you’re barren, Johanna. Now quit fretting.”

She strolled into their chamber. “You may not need another child, m’lord, but I do declare in six or seven months you’re going to be getting one.”

He didn’t understand. He shook his head. She nodded. “We’re going to have a baby.”

For the first time in his life, Gabriel MacBain was rendered speechless. His wife believed that was a most appropriate reaction.

They had, after all, just been given a miracle.


You’re certain?”

Gabriel whispered his question so his son wouldn’t wake up. Alex was sleeping on a mat across the chamber. Only the top of his head was visible above the mound of covers Johanna felt he needed to stay warm.

She and her husband were in bed. Gabriel held Johanna in his arms. She was so relieved he was finally reacting, she let out a little sigh. She’d given Gabriel her good news over an hour ago, then waited for him to tell her how happy she’d made him. He hadn’t said a word until now.

“I have all the symptoms.” she whispered back. “I was disbelieving at first, of course, because I thought I was barren for a very long while. Are you happy about the baby, Gabriel?”


She sighed again. It was too dark in the chamber to see his face, but she guessed he was smiling.

“Glynis told me a woman can be barren with one man and fertile with another. Do you know what that means?”


“Men can be barren, too.”

He laughed. She hushed him so he wouldn’t wake Alex. “Your first husband obviously was.” he said.

“Why does that please you?”

“He was a bastard.”

She couldn’t fault his reasoning. “Why don’t men acknowledge that they could be the barren ones in a marriage?”

“Such an admission would wound their pride, I suppose. It’s easier to blame the women. It isn’t right, just easier.”

She let out a loud, lusty yawn. Gabriel was stroking her back. The caress made her sleepy. He asked her something, but she was too tired to answer him. She closed her eyes and was dead to the world a minute later.

Gabriel didn’t fall asleep for another hour. He held Johanna close and thought about the baby. He should have wanted a boy as his first choice, for a man couldn’t have enough sons to help with the building of an empire, but he really hoped for a baby girl. She would have blue eyes and yellow hair, like her mother, and if God was willing to recreate perfection, his daughter would be every bit as sassy.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Laird MacBain told his clan about the baby the following morning. Johanna stood next to her husband on the top step outside the doors. Alex stood next to her. Both the Maclaurins and the MacBains cheered the news. Johanna and Gabriel had already told Alex. The little boy didn’t seem overly interested about a new brother or sister, and his lack of interest convinced his parents he was feeling secure.

He could barely stand still during the announcement. His father had promised to take him riding, and to a four-year-old, a minute of waiting seemed to feel as long as an hour.

After Gabriel dismissed the well-wishers, Johanna turned to Calum and Keith.

“I’ve come up with several names I’d like to ...”

“Good God, lass, you can’t tell us the baby’s name,” Keith blurted out.

The Maclaurin soldier was horrified by her ignorance. Didn’t she realize the bairn’s name should never, ever be told to another person before the baptism? As soon as he was able to stop sputtering, he asked her just that question. She told him she guessed she didn’t realize.

“I was never concerned about the traditions regarding babies,” she explained.

“What is that, m’lady?” Calum asked. “Most married women are careful to follow every tradition.”

“I thought I was barren.”

“You’re not,” Keith remarked.

She smiled. “No, I’m not,” she agreed.

“We’ll have to do our best to instruct you, then, on the importance of the name you select.”

“A man’s name is far more important than just a name,” Calum announced.

Before she could ask what in heaven’s name he meant by that statement, Keith turned her attention. “If another person has knowledge of the name before the christening, he could use it to work magic on the babe.”

Calum nodded agreement.

Johanna could tell from their serious expressions they weren’t jesting with her. They really believed their nonsense. “Is this tradition or superstition you’re giving me?” she asked.

Glynis stepped forward to join the conversation. She wanted to add a few important reminders of her own.

“If the babe cries during the christening, then it is sufficient proof the devil’s been driven out, m’lady. Did you already know that truth?”

Johanna shook her head. She had never heard of anything so preposterous. She didn’t want to injure Glynis’s feelings, however, and for that reason she didn’t smile.

“Then I shall hope the baby cries,” she said.

“You might also give the wee one a tiny pinch to ensure he does cry out,” Glynis suggested.

“Some mothers probably do,” Keith speculated.

“If your baby’s born at midnight or at the twilight hour, he’ll have the gift of second sight, of course. Heaven help the babe if he comes during the chime hours, for then he’ll have the ability to see ghosts and spirits hidden from the rest of us.”

“Papa, aren’t you ready to leave yet?” Alex asked.

Gabriel nodded. He leaned down, ordered Johanna not to exhaust herself, and then lifted his son on his shoulder and started for the stables.

Leila walked across the courtyard, bowed her head to her laird when she passed him, and then hurried over to Johanna to offer her congratulations.

“It’s joyful news,” she said.

“Aye, it is,” Glynis agreed. “I was just giving m’lady a few suggestions,” she told Leila.

“And I shall try to remember every one of them,” Johanna promised.

Keith shook his head. “I doubt you’ll remember,” he said. “You’ve forgotten what day this is,” he added. “You’re wearing the wrong plaid again.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if she’s doing it on purpose,” Calum remarked. There was a hint of amusement in his voice. As soon as the MacBain soldier spoke, Leila deliberately turned so that her back was to Calum. She kept her gaze directed on the ground. Johanna noticed the action and was intrigued by it.

“Glynis, Megan told me you had a good hand at cutting hair,” Johanna said.

“ ’Tis the truth I do have a talent for the task.”

“Clare MacKay could use your assistance,” Johanna said. “The Maclnnes men made a mess out of her hair.”

“I know they did,” Glynis said. “They meant to make a mess so anyone seeing her would know her shame.”

Johanna didn’t want to get into a long discussion about Clare now. “Yes,” she agreed. “But Clare’s father is coming here today, and I was wondering if you could . . .”

“Say no more, m’lady. I’ll be happy to fetch my scissors and try to make the lass look a little more presentable.”

“Thank you,” Johanna said. “Leila, please don’t leave just yet,” she added when the Maclaurin woman turned to walk with Glynis across the yard.

“Since Lady Johanna’s wearing the MacBain colors, I assume she’s your responsibility today,” Keith told Calum.

“I can take care of myself, gentlemen,” Johanna said. “You both waste your time following me around.”

The two men ignored her protest. “Aye, she is my responsibility,” Calum said.

Johanna decided she would have to talk to Gabriel about the foolishness in his command. The men would continue to trail after her until they were released from the duty by their laird.

Keith bowed to his mistress and left to see his duties completed. Calum was about to go back inside, but Johanna stayed him with her hand on his arm.

“Calum, may I have a minute of your time? I would like to introduce you to Leila.”

He gave her a look that suggested she’d lost her senses. “I’ve known Leila for some time, m’lady.”

He didn’t spare the Maclaurin woman a glance when he said her name. Johanna turned to Leila. She was diligently staring at the ground. “Leila, have you met Calum?”

“You know I have,” Leila whispered.

“Then tell me please, both of you, why you act as though you’ve never met before? I’m very curious and probably interfering, but I assure you I have the best of intentions. I thought, from the looks you try not to give each other, well, that you might actually care about each other a great deal.”

“He’s a MacBain.”

“She’s a Maclaurin.”

“Please excuse me, m’lady,” Calum said, his voice clipped and hard. “I have duties that need my attention. I don’t have time for such foolish talk.”

He didn’t even nod jn Leila’s direction when he left. She kept her gaze turned away. Johanna reached out to touch her arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make either one of you upset. You do care about Calum, don’t you?”

She gave an abrupt nod. “I have tried not to have these feelings, m’lady,” she whispered. “I cannot seem to help myself.”

“I believe Calum has feelings for you, Leila.”

“Nay,” she argued. “He would never allow himself to become attracted to a Maclaurin.”

“I didn’t realize the separation between the clans ran this deep,” Johanna remarked.

“How could you not know? The way the men carry on whenever you wear the wrong plaid should be proof enough of the importance they attach to the issue. We’re all trying to get along with each other yet stay separate at the same time.”

“But why must everyone stay separate?”

Leila confessed she didn’t know. “We’re all most appreciative of our laird’s patience with us,” she said. “I heard what you said at the supper table about the land belonging to the MacBains now. Everyone was talking about it, m’lady. What you said made sense to some of us. The Maclaurin soldiers didn’t like hearing the truth, however.”

“Do you know what I think? We have one too many plaids.”

“Aye, we do,” Leila agreed. “But neither clan is going to give up its colors, no matter how much you plead.”

“I’m not going to plead with anyone,” Johanna said. “Will you answer a question please? If Calum was a Maclaurin, would he court you?”

“I would hope he would,” she answered. “But he isn’t a Maclaurin, and he doesn’t have any feelings for me anyway.”

Johanna turned the topic then. “Would you like to come back to the hall and help with the tasks every now and again?”

“Oh, yes, m’lady, I would. I could see . . .” She stopped before she gave herself away.

Johanna wasn’t fooled. “Yes, you would be able to see Calum more often.”

Leila blushed. “Our laird doesn’t want me to ...”

“But of course he does,” Johanna said. “Come for dinner tonight, Leila. You’ll sit next to me. We’ll discuss your duties after we’ve eaten.”

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