Would you have me turn my back on him?"
"I would have you answer my question," he reminded her.
"You'l blame Mary."
"Mary was involved in this?" Alec demanded. He shook his head, then said, "I shouldn't be surprised."
"Mary brought the baby to me. McPherson's wife gave her son to Mary, begging for my help."
Alec finally let go of her arm. Jamie resisted the urge to rub the sting away. "Now you're bent on being angry with Mary for interfering, aren't you, Alec?"
He didn't bother to answer her. Gavin gave her a sympathetic look, then asked Alec, "Did Daniel know about this?"
"He couldn't have," Alec answered. "He was hunting with me. If he went directly home, he's probably finding out now. God will ing, he'l keep her under lock and key."
"Mary has a good heart," Jamie interjected. "Surely Daniel won't be angry with her for helping a sick child."
"You may go back inside now," Alec announced, ignoring her defense of her sister.
His cold attitude upset her. God only knew she should be used to his contrary ways by now. He'd been away from home for four long days and nights, but she certainly hadn't missed him.
"I'm not ready to go back inside," Jamie returned, startling Gavin and Marcus. Alec didn't look surprised, though. He looked resigned. "I have a question to ask you first."
Alec let out a sigh of impatience. "Marcus, send some men to fol ow the McPhersons to the border," he ordered before giving Jamie his attention again. "Wel ? What is this question?"
"I was wondering if your hunt went well ."
"Then you found the men who hurt Angus?"
"Did you have to kil anyone?"
He thought that had to be the most ridiculous question ever put to him. She whispered it and then gave Gavin a worried glance. Alec didn't know what to make of his wife. She looked irritated with him. The woman was simply too ill ogical to bother with.
But very appealing. He'd only been away four short days and nights, but it seemed much, much longer to him now. That admission made his mood black. She was stil dressed in her English garb—he'd noticed that sin right away—and he was beginning to realize she was just as stubborn as he was. Mayhap even more so. "Six, seven," he announced in a hard voice. "Would you like to know how I kil ed them?"
She took a step back, forgetting she was standing on the stairs. Alec grabbed her shoulders to keep her from fal ing. "I assume, then, that you don't want to know?"
She shrugged his hands away. "No, I don't want to know how you kil ed them, you impossible man, but I do want the true number. Was it six or seven?"
"How in God's name would I know?" he asked, clearly exasperated. "I was in the thick of battle, Jamie. I didn't take time to count."
"Well, you should have," Jamie muttered. "In future, I would ask you do keep count. It's the least you could do."
"Because I only have eight shil ings left, that's why."
He didn't know what she was talking about. That didn't surprise him, though; he never knew what she was talking about. The color had left her face, reminding him of how much she disliked battles. He guessed she didn't want him kil ing anyone. That was such an amusing thought that he couldn't help but smile. Hel , he'd probably kil ed twice that number. The fight had been fierce. He wasn't about to share that information with Jamie, though.
"You're smiling, Alec. Does that mean you were jesting with me?"
"I was," he lied, thinking to ease her frown away.
She gave him a look that suggested she didn't believe him. Then she picked up her skirts and hurried back inside.
"Alec," Gavin said, "what did she think would happen when you caught up with our enemies?"
"I haven't the faintest idea."
Gavin held his grin. "By the way," he said, turning the topic, "Franklin rode ahead to say the clan's on their way home from Gil ebrid's holding. They should be here by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. Some of Harold's clan is tagging along. They mean to pay their respects."
"The hel they do," Alec barked. "They mean to look at my wife."
"Yes," Gavin replied with a chuckle. "Her beauty is already becoming legend. There's also the fact that she saved Angus. Anyone with an ache or a pain will be camping on our doorstep."
"How is Angus doing?"
"What does that mean?"
"He wanted to get back to his duties. Your wife caught him just as he was leaving his cottage. Elizabeth had gone to enlist her aid." Gavin let out a rich laugh before continuing. "I could hear Angus shouting all the way to the castle doors. When I got there—"
"He raised his voice to Jamie?"
"He had good reason," Gavin explained when he saw how angry Alec was getting. "She'd taken his sword away from him."
Alec raised an eyebrow in reaction to that statement. "He did have reason, then," he admitted with a grin.
"What happened next?"
"She never raised her voice to him, but she had him back in bed in minutes."
Alec started toward the stables, his hands clasped behind his back. Gavin walked at his side. "I don't trust any of Harold's men, especial y his bastard sons," he said, turning the topic back to their coming visitors.
"Justin will be a problem," Alec stated. "He's used to taking what he wants."
"You think he'd actually go after another man's wife?"
"He would. The man's fathered more bastard children than England's king."
"With his handsome looks, the women do fal at his feet. It's odd that Philip, though identical in appearance, is so opposite in nature. He's too timid to try anything."
"I don't trust Philip, either," Alec muttered.
Gavin smiled. "You speak like a man who cares for his wife, Alec."
"She's my property," Alec countered. "No one's going to insult her but me."
"She isn't having an easy time of it," Gavin remarked. "The task you gave her has helped, of course, but Edith is making it difficult stil . She countermands every order Jamie gives. Annie isn't much better. She won't even speak to Jamie."
Alec didn't answer that remark, for he'd just noticed Jamie rushing down the steps. "Where do you think you're going?" he shouted.
"To visit the blacksmith," Jamie called back. She turned the corner and was soon out of sight.
Alec shook his head. "The daft woman's gone in the wrong direction."
Gavin chuckled. "Alec, she begs me to give her more duties. I can't let her do the heavy work, moving the stones, but I want to give her something —"
"What are you talking about?" Alec asked. "Moving what stones?"
Gavin gave his laird a puzzled look. "The kitchens," he reminded him.
When Alec continued to frown, Gavin explained, "You did give her permission to move the kitchens, didn't you?"
Alec shrugged. "I might have," he admitted. "In a weak moment. Stil , it couldn't take her more than an hour to rearrange whatever in God's name she wants rearranged."
"Rearrange?" Gavin repeated in astonishment. God help him, he started laughing.
"What the hel 's so amusing, Gavin?" Alec demanded. "Did my wife tel you—"
"Nay, she's doing exactly what you gave her permission to do," Gavin said, nearly choking. "You'l see soon enough, Alec. It might be a pleasant surprise," he added hastily when Alec seemed about to lose his patience. "I wouldn't want to spoil it."
Father Murdock came rushing toward his laird, drawing his full attention. The priest's black cassock was flapping in the wind. "Alec? If it's convenient, I'd like to have a word with you."
Both Alec and Gavin immediately tried to get downwind of the priest. The foul odor radiating from the man made their eyes water. Out of respect, Alec didn't mention his fragrant condition. Gavin, however, wasn't as diplomatic. "Good God, Father Murdock, what have you done to yourself? You smel like pig swil ."
The priest wasn't insulted. He laughed and nodded his head. "I do smel foul, my boy, but I'm feeling better than I have in years. Jamie gave me a special paste to put on my chest. She mixed me another potion, too. My cough is near to gone now."
He took a step forward. Alec stood his ground, but Gavin took a hasty step back. "Now, then, enough about my health and on to my important question," he said, addressing Alec with his gaze. "Your wife has given me all her shil ings," he stated as he opened his hands to show the coins.
"She wished to buy indulgences. I didn't have the heart to tel her we don't use coins here."
Alec shook his head. "She worries overmuch about her soul. 'Tis an English inclination if I'm not mistaken."
The priest grinned. "Her soul doesn't concern her at all , Alec."
"It's your soul that has her worried."
Gavin covered his laughter with a loud cough. "I count seven shil ings," he told Alec.
"Eight," Father Murdock corrected. "One, she said, just as a precaution against a faulty memory. I didn't understand what she meant by that remark."
"The woman's daft."
"She's caring," Father Murdock argued. "Now tel me what to do with these coins."
"Put them in the box atop the mantel," Alec suggested with a shrug.
"As you wish," the priest agreed. "Now, while we're on the topic of your dear little wife, I was wondering if you'd give her permission to use one of the empty rooms above the stairs. She asked me to put the question to you, Alec."
"I see no harm in granting this request," Alec answered. "What does she want the room for?"
"Like hel ."
"Now, son, no need to get lathered up," Father Murdock soothed. He could see his laird's mood was spoiling as fast as fish left out in the sun too long. He blurted out his next question. "May she go riding on the hil side—staying on Kincaid land, of course? It will give her something to do. I can tel she misses you something fierce when you're away." The last comment softened Alec's expression. "Of course she misses me," he boasted.
"Al right, Father Murdock. Tel her she may ride if she has an escort."
"You can't be thinking she'd run away, Alec? She misses her home, but I—"
"Father, the woman can't find her way out of a room with only one door. No, I don't think she'll try to go back to England, but she will certainly get lost.
She has no sense of direction."
"Yes," the priest agreed with a sparkle in his eyes. "She's as flawed as a clear blue sky."
"You contradict yourself," Gavin interjected. "A blue sky isn't flawed."
"To a blind man it is," Murdock answered, staring intently up at Alec. "If your wife is so inferior, I will be happy to see about gaining an annulment."
"You will not."
Alec hadn't meant to sound so forceful in his denial of the priest's ludicrous suggestion. Father Murdock had deliberately implied that an annulment could be quite easily obtained. Alec knew he'd fal en into the old man's trap, for he'd just admitted how much he cared about Jamie. "I grow weary of women's talk," he muttered. "Gavin? Do you think you can keep my wife from starting another war while I see to other matters?"
"She asked about Helena."
The priest's quiet statement fel between them. Alec slowly turned to face Father Murdock again. "And?"
he asked, his voice devoid of all emotion. "Did you know she'd been told that you kil ed Helena?" Alec shook his head. "When did she hear this foul gossip?" Gavin demanded.
"Before Alec arrived at her home," Father Murdock answered.
"Did she ask you if it was true?" Gavin asked when he realized Alec wasn't going to question the priest.
"No, she didn't ask me if it was true," Father Murdock answered. He gave Gavin a frown of displeasure.
"In fact, she told me she never believed that gossip. She doesn't think Helena kil ed herself, either. She believes it was an accident. She has a tender heart, Gavin, and she has complete faith in her husband."
Alec nodded. "No, she wouldn't believe gossip," he stated. His voice was fil ed with pride. "Jamie's such a gentle, caring woman."
"Aye, she is," Gavin returned.
"Of course, she can be a might stubborn, too," Father Murdock admitted. "She keeps nagging me to give her some duties. I believe she wants to become part of this family, Alec. She's fal ing in love with you, son. Treat her heart kindly."
Alec wasn't at all convinced the priest's words about Jamie fal ing in love with him were true, but he grinned over the possibility.
"Now you'l be sure to praise her efforts with the kitchen, won't you, Alec?" the priest said. "What think you of the new addition? It's coming along quite nicely, now that the men have quit their grumbling."
"What are you talking about?" Alec asked. Murdock gave Gavin a quick look, then turned back to Alec.
"The kitchen, Alec. Surely you haven't forgotten you gave Jamie permission to move the building."
"I what?" Alec roared.
The priest took a hasty step back to get away from Alec's wrath. "She said she had your permission to rearrange the kitchen, Alec. The sweet little lass wouldn't lie. Could you have forgotten…"
He quit trying to defend his mistress when Alec started for the doors of his castle. "Gavin, he looked very… surprised."
"Surprised? He was that," Gavin returned. "You better keep close to Jamie until his thunder quiets down.
He should just about be noticing the gaping hole in the back—"
Alec's bel ow of outrage fil ed the courtyard. "He's seen it," Father Murdock whispered. "Oh, Lord save us, here comes Jamie."