He'd have to give her praise now, she told herself, whether he wanted to or not.
Jamie told herself to remember every single word so she could pul the speech out of her memory and savor it whenever Alec irritated her.
It was a short speech, over and done with, in fact, before she realized it. Alec's voice rang out over the crowd when he shouted, "My wife."
My wife? That was it? He had nothing else to say? When he continued to keep silent, she guessed he was finished. And since he'd spoken in Gaelic, and she'd already decided against letting him know she understood his language, she couldn't very well let him see how irritated she was over his abruptness.
When Alec gave the signal, his men drew their swords. Another great shout echoed throughout the courtyard.
Jamie edged closer to Alec, then bowed her head and made a curtsy to his soldiers.
Their renewed cheers startled her. Alec thought she might be a little intimidated. She looked overwhelmed by all the attention.
"What did you say to them, Alec?" she whispered, knowing full well what he'd said. As soon as he answered her, she thought to tel him that he really should expound upon his introduction.
She never got the chance to enlighten him, however.
"I told them you were English," Alec lied. He threw his arm around her shoulders again and, as was his disturbing habit, literal y hauled her up against his side. God's truth, he treated her just like a satchel.
"And that, of course, is the reason they're cheering," Jamie countered. "Because I'm English."
"Nay, wife. 'Tis the reason they're screaming."
He was outrageous. Jamie shook her head.
"What think you of my men?" he asked, his tone serious now.
She didn't look at him when she gave her answer. "I'm thinking they all have swords, Kincaid, and you don't. That's what I'm thinking."
The woman had grit, all right. Alec grinned in response to her barb.
The soldiers were openly staring at her. Alec knew they'd have to look their fil . It would take them time to get used to her appearance. In truth, he was stil having difficulty with that task.
The soldier Jamie had guessed was Alec's second-in-command rushed up the steps at his leader's beckoning. He stopped in front of Jamie, waiting for an introduction.
"This is Gavin, wife. He's in command whenever I'm away from home."
When Gavin looked into her eyes, she smiled her greeting. Her smile began to falter though, the longer he continued to stare at her. She wondered if he was waiting for her to say something, or if there was some formality she'd yet to complete.
He was a very attractive man. He reminded her of Mary's new husband, Daniel, for when he did finally smile at her, his green eyes sparkled with amusement. "I'm honored to meet you, Lady Kincaid."
Gavin didn't take his gaze away from her when he spoke to Alec. "You've chosen well , Alec. I'm wondering how you ever talked Daniel—"
"A toss of the caber settled the issue of first choice," Alec announced. "My wife was pick of the litter."
"Pick of the litter?" Jamie turned to frown at her husband. "Are you jesting with me in front of your friend, Alec, or do you really believe what you say?"
"I am jesting," Alec answered.
"He's always jesting," Jamie told Gavin, her roundabout way of apologizing for her husband's outrageous remarks.
Gavin was astonished. In all his years, he'd never known Alec to jest about anything. He wasn't about to contradict the new Lady Kincaid, however.
He turned just in time to see Alec wink at his wife. "She's exhausted, Gavin," Alec said, drawing his soldier's full attention. "A good supper and a long night's rest are just what she needs."
"She needs to see your home first," Jamie announced. Her voice echoed her exasperation. "For she is most curious."
Both Alec and Gavin grinned over the subtle way Jamie had just censured them for speaking as though she weren't there. Jamie smiled, too, for she was pleased with the way she'd just bested them. "May I also have a bath, Alec?"
"I'l see to that task at once, milady," Gavin called out before Alec could answer.
He followed behind his new mistress like a puppy. Alec watched Gavin staring at his wife. He was amused by the way his friend tried to hide his reaction to Jamie. Gavin couldn't seem to take his gaze off her.
"Thank you, Gavin," Jamie replied. "You needn't be so formal with me, though. Please cal me Jamie. 'Tis my given name."
When Alec's friend didn't respond to her suggestion, Jamie turned around to look at him. Gavin was frowning over her request. "It isn't acceptable?" she asked.
"Did you say your name was Jane?"
"No, it's Jamie," she instructed.
She nodded when Gavin continued to look confused The soldier turned to Alec and blurted out, "But that's a man's name."
"You put him up to it, didn't you, Alec?"
He didn't bother to answer that absurd question. Jamie did have a man's name, and Alec had far more important matters to see to than to stand in his doorway debating this issue with her.
Both he and Gavin left her frowning after them as they walked down the three steps into the great hall . In truth, he had to give Gavin a good shove to get him started.
Jamie looked around with curiosity. A stone wall as tal as a church steeple was on her right. The stones were cool to the touch, smooth as polished gems, and without a single speck of dust blunting the golden brown color. A wooden staircase led to the second level, where it angled into a balcony that stretched all the way across one side of the building. Jamie counted three doors on the upper level and assumed they were sleeping chambers for Alec and his relatives.
There certainly wasn't much privacy offered by the construction. Anyone in the great hall or the entrance could see who was coming and who was going from the rooms above, so open was the area.
The great hall was large enough for giants. It was stark in appearance, yet immaculate as well . Straight ahead of her was a massive stone fireplace. A blazing fire barely warmed the air in the gigantic room.
The hall was the biggest she'd ever seen. Of course, she'd only seen her papa's hall , and she guessed that didn't really signify; her papa's chamber would have been lost in this hall . The room was as broad as a meadow and was equal y divided by a long center pathway of rushes leading to the hearth. A table with at least twenty stools lining its sides took up only a smal portion on the left side. Another table of identical dimensions was situated on the right. Just a few feet beyond that table was a tal wooden screen.
Jamie assumed the square partition closeted the buttery.
Alec and Gavin were seated at the table in front of the screen. Since neither warrior was paying her any attention, she strol ed over to the screen, looked behind it, and was surprised to find a bed there, built on a tal platform. Several pegs cluttered the wall behind the huge bed, and from the size of the garments hanging there, she thought this might be where Alec slept. She prayed she was wrong.
A soldier walked past her and placed her satchel on the foot of the platform. Jamie knew her guess had been accurate then. The soldier gave her a startled look and a gruff reply when she thanked him for bringing her baggage, then motioned her out of the way when another big man carried a circular wooden tub behind the screen and placed it in the far corner.
She was going to have the quietest bath she'd ever had, and that was that. Jamie felt herself blush just thinking about her lack of privacy. The screen would hide her nakedness, aye, yet anyone who happened to walk into the hall would hear the noise and surely guess what she was doing.
Jamie went back to her husband, determined to find out where the kitchen was located so she could order their supper. She reached his side and stood there several long minutes, but Alec stil didn't acknowledge her. Gavin was giving his accounting to his laird and had his full attention. Jamie sat down on the stool adjacent to her husband, folded her hands in her lap, and patiently waited for him to finish.
It would have been rude for her to interrupt. Jamie knew it was her duty not to complain either. She was wife of an important laird, after all , and if she had to sit there until morning light before she gained his attention, then sit there she would.
She soon became too sleepy to think about eating. She was just about to get up from the table when two women came rushing into the hall .
Their gowns were made from the Kincaid colors, and from their bearing, Jamie knew they weren't servants. Both women had dark blond hair, brown eyes, and sincere smiles as well , until they turned their attention to her.
Their smiles immediately vanished. The tal er of the two actually glared at Jamie.
Jamie glared back. She was too exhausted to put up with such nonsense. Tomorrow, she decided, would be soon enough to try to win the woman's friendship. For now she was going to give as good as she was getting.
A soldier, with features showing a marked resemblance to both women, came into the hall next. He stopped directly behind the two women, placed his hands on their shoulders, and stared at Jamie. His hair was black, almost as black as the scowl he was giving her.
This one had already made up his mind to hate her, Jamie supposed. She assumed it was because she was English. She was an outsider here; it would take time for Alec's clan to accept her. God only knew it was going to take her time to get used to them.
Alec didn't notice the intrusion until Jamie nudged him with her foot. He gave her a frown for interrupting him, then saw the threesome waiting near the entrance. Alec broke into a wide smile immediately. Both women smiled back. The tal er of the two rushed forward.
"Come and join us," Alec called out. "Marcus?" he added when the scowling soldier had walked over to his side, "I'l hear your accounting after supper. Did you bring Elizabeth back with you?"
"I did," Marcus answered in a clipped voice.
"Where is she?"
"She wanted to wait in her cottage for word of Angus." Alec nodded. He remembered his wife when Marcus turned his gaze to her. "This is my wife," he announced with a shrug in his voice.
"Her name is Jamie." Alec turned to his wife and said, "This is Marcus. And this is Edith," he added with a nod toward the woman standing beside the brooding warrior. "Marcus and Edith are brother and sister and first cousins of Helena."
She could have guessed they were sister and brother. Their scowls were quite alike. She was too busy trying to fol ow Alec's explanation to bother about their rudeness, though. Where was Helena? And who was this Elizabeth that Marcus had just mentioned?
Alec interrupted her puzzling by motioning to the last of the threesome. "Last but certainly not least is my Annie," he announced. His tone was fil ed with affection. "Come closer, child," he called out. "You must meet your new mistress."
When Annie hurried across the room, Jamie realized she was actually a grown woman. Annie appeared to be just a year or two younger than Jamie. Yet there was a childlike expression on her lovely face. She radiated wide-eyed innocence, too.
Annie made an awkward curtsy to Jamie, then smiled sweetly. Her voice was that of a very little girl when she said, "Do I have to like her, Alec?"
"You do," Alec answered.
"Because it will please me."
"Then I shal like her," Annie answered. "Even though she's English." Her smile widened when she added, "I've missed you, milord."
Before Alec had a chance to respond to that remark, Annie hurried down to the far end of the table and took her place between Marcus and Edith.
Jamie continued to watch Annie a long moment. She understood what was wrong with the girl. She was one of those special people who stayed childlike all their lives. Jamie's heart went out to Annie and to Alec as well , for he'd shown such kindness.
"Is Annie Marcus's sister, too?" Jamie asked.
"No, she's Helena's sister."
"Who is Helena?"
"She was my wife."
Alec turned his attention back to Gavin before Jamie could ask another question. A group of servants came bustling into the hall , drawing her attention. Jamie's stomach immediately started grumbling when she spotted the platters of food the stout women carried.
Trenchers made of hol owed out stale bread covered the table. A large platter of mutton was placed directly in front of Jamie. She tried not to gag, but the sight and smel made her stomach turn. Jamie detested mutton with a passion, ever since she'd taken ill after eating a portion of tainted mutton when she was just a little girl. She hadn't touched it since.
Wedges of cheese, some yel ow, others orange with red streaks, fat tarts overflowing with dark purple berries, and crusty rounds of brown freckled bread were added to the fare. Jugs of ale and pitchers of water completed the supper.
Alec ignored all the commotion until the servants had left the hall . When a group of soldiers walked inside, he acknowledged each man with a curt nod, then went back to questioning Gavin.
He was beginning to get irritated with his second-in-command. While Gavin gave quick, efficient answers to all his questions, he certainly wasn't giving his laird his full attention; he kept staring across the table at Jamie.
Alec's voice turned hard in reaction to the unintentional insult. Jamie looked at her husband. "This news displeases you?" she asked when she caught his attention.
"Angus is missing."
"A soldier under my command," Alec explained. "He's equal in rank to Gavin, though his duties are of a different nature."
"He is your friend as well ?"
Alec tore a piece of bread in half and offered Jamie one portion before he answered her. "Yes, he has been a good friend as well ."
"Who is Elizabeth?" Jamie asked. "I heard you ask Marcus if he'd—"
"She's Angus's wife."
"Oh, the poor woman," Jamie responded, her voice fil ed with sympathy. "She must be terribly worried.
Couldn't Angus just be late in returning home?"
Alec shook his head. He couldn't understand why Jamie was so concerned. She didn't even know the man. Stil , her sympathy pleased him. "He isn't late," he announced. "Tardiness would be an insult to me, wife. No, something has happened to him."
"He's dead or he'd be here," Gavin interjected with a shrug.
"Yes," Alec agreed.