He whispered something to her when she straightened back up, then patted her backside. Elizabeth fairly flew out the doorway.
"She's a good woman," Angus said with a long sigh. He tossed the water from his cup on the earthen floor, then got out of his bed to search for the jug of wine.
"She took it with her," Alec announced with a laugh. "The woman knows you better than you think she does."
Angus looked pleased with that statement. He motioned for Alec to share a portion of his drink with him, and when his laird had complied, he took a long swal ow. "Lord, that tastes good. Your wife has told Elizabeth I can't have any wine until the threads come out. Only God knows why she would say such a monstrous thing. Elizabeth obeys every order though. I'm damned to misery with the two of them pecking at me like hens, Alec. You should have let me die, man, and saved me from such—"
Angus nodded. "Did you have something in particular you wanted to discuss with me, or did you just want to see my sorry state?"
"Close the door, Angus," Alec directed. "I don't want anyone to overhear our talk. I need some information, friend, and advice."
Angus kicked the door shut. "I can tel it's serious, Alec. Your expression is grim."
Alec explained what had happened to Jamie. He ended the narrative by tel ing Angus that Jamie didn't know someone had tried to kil her.
The two men discussed the added protection that would be needed until the culprit was found. Though Angus wasn't an old man by any measure, he was stil three summers senior to his laird, and in Alec's mind, three summers the wiser.
Angus sat down in a chair and propped his feet up on the bed. His scowl was as deep as Alec's by the time they'd finished making their plans.
When Alec started pacing the length of the room, Angus knew there was more to be discussed. He patiently waited for his laird to continue.
Long, silent minutes passed before Alec turned back to Angus. "Angus, I want you to tel me everything you remember about Helena. You were here, with Marcus and Gavin, during the short time I was married to her. Since I was away—"
"Aye, you were doing the king's business most of that time," Angus agreed. "Do you realize, Alec, this is the first time you've said her name since the burying day?"
"I wanted to put it behind me," Alec announced. "Yet I've always…" He stopped mid-sentence, shook his head, and then commanded once again that Angus tel him what he knew about Helena.
The Kincaid spent a good half-hour questioning his trusted friend. His mood wasn't much improved when he left Angus. Elizabeth had been hovering outside the door. Alec winked at her before leaving, causing yet another blush.
Alec had just reached the top of the hil when he saw Jamie in the window above the first story. If she'd just turned a little to the left, she would have seen him. Jamie's attention, however, was centered on the two soldiers lounging against the stone wall below her.
She was smiling. His mood immediately lightened. Lord, she was enchanting. He thought she was a bonny lass indeed with her hair tied up on top of her head. Long curly strands had already worked their way down the sides of her face. There were smudges of dirt on her nose and forehead.
She would need yet another bath before nightfal , he decided with a grin.
Something one of the soldiers was saying to the other drew her full attention.
While Alec watched, Jamie braced her elbows on the ledge and leaned farther out. He could tel she was vastly amused by the story one soldier was relating to his friend.
Alec moved closer, then came to a sudden stop when he realized his men were speaking in Gaelic.
And she understood every damn word.
He was too surprised to be angry with her. Then he heard the last of an old jest the soldier was tel ing his friend, about a Scottish warrior finding an unclothed woman stretched out on the roadside. As was the man's natural inclination, the warrior immediately fel upon her and had his way with her.
The younger soldier let out a good snort of appreciation before his friend continued the tel ing. He explained then that another Scottish warrior came upon the scene and immediately shamed his friend by tel ing him the woman was obviously dead, for God Almighty's sake, and only a vile infidel would want to mate with a dead woman.
Jamie's hands had covered her mouth, probably to keep her laughter contained. Her eyes were sparkling with pleasure, too. She waited in anticipation for the punch line of the jest.
Alec waited to see her reaction.
"Dead?" the soldier shouted. "I thought she was English."
Jamie lost her smile then. She disappeared from the window while the two unsuspecting soldiers continued to laugh with merriment. She was back in his vision quickly, though, balancing a large bucket of water in her hands. Alec held his laughter as he watched her struggle with the awkward weight. He didn't bother to warn his men. Jamie took careful aim, then smiled with the joy of victory when the soapy water poured over her victims.
"Pray, do forgive me," she called down when they'd finished their litany of curses and turned to look up at her. "I had no idea you were standing there," she lied, ever so sweetly.
"It's Lady Kincaid," the one soldier gasped out to the other.
Both men were immediately contrite for having yel ed. They apologized profusely. As they rushed past Alec, he heard one remark that it was a blessing their mistress didn't understand Gaelic, else she surely would have been offended by their crude remarks.
But she had understood. Alec did laugh then, a full booming sound that drew his wife's attention.
She smiled down at him. "You're in a fine mood, husband," she called out. "Are you feeling rested, then?"
She would have to bring up his nap. Alec quit his laughing. He decided two could play this foolish game of deception, and his mind was already thinking of the remarks he was going to make—al in Gaelic, of course—just to goad her temper. She wouldn't be able to retaliate, for to do so would prove she understood what he'd said.
He would beat her at her own game. Alec looked forward to the insults he planned to hurl at her. She was such a little temptress when she was riled.
And he was just the man to rile her.
She was fil ed with surprises, pretending ignorance whenever Gaelic was spoken in her presence. Hel , he'd ordered his men to strengthen their skil s in her language just to make her adjustment easier. Why, she'd have them all strutting around in English garb by winter if he wasn't more careful, Alec decided.
That thought gave him a chil .
"Well, Alec? Why were you laughing?" Jamie asked again, leaning farther out on the ledge.
"Will you watch what you're doing?" he shouted up at her. "You're going to fal on your head, you daft woman."
She moved back a pace. "Thank you for being so concerned, husband. Now will you tel me why you were laughing?"
Alec recounted the tale he'd overheard, just to goad her.
Jamie didn't let him finish the jest, though. "I've heard that old jest, Alec," she called out. "The woman wasn't dead," she added. "She was Scottish, and that's that."
She left the window before Alec could argue with her.
She met him at the bottom of the steps. "What's all this clutter?" he asked in a growl. The distance between them was fil ed with bundles. A rather odd-looking chair, the seat as wide as two good-sized men, topped the pile.
"My possessions," Jamie announced. "Some will go into our bedroom, Alec, and the rest belong in the hall ."
"I don't like clutter," Alec stated. He reached down, grabbed a tapestry, and held it up so that he could see the design. Jamie skirted her way around her things and snatched the tapestry out of Alec's hands.
"Don't frown so, husband," she whispered, for both Gavin and Marcus were observing the scene. "I thought we'd place this tapestry above your mantel," she continued.
"What the hel is it?" he growled. "I can't make…"
"You were looking at the wrong side," Jamie returned. She hurried over to Gavin, handed the tapestry to him. "Please hang this—as straight as a lance, if you please. And try not to look at it while you're hanging it, Gavin. I want you to be surprised."
"Did you do this with your own hands, milady?" Gavin asked, smiling over her enthusiasm.
"Oh, heavens, no," Jamie told him. "Agnes and Alice did all the work. It was their birthday surprise for me." She gave both Gavin and Marcus a long look then, and turned back to Alec. "Do you know, we must conspire to have my twin sisters meet Gavin and Marcus. I do believe they'd—"
"You aren't going to arrange any marriages, Jamie," Alec interjected.
"Are the twins like you, Jamie?" Gavin asked.
"No, no, both are much prettier."
Gavin's eyes widened. "Then I must meet these ladies," he announced.
"Their personalities are just like Mary's," Alec murmured.
"Never mind," Gavin rushed out. He turned and hurried to the fireplace to hang the tapestry. Alec's laughter trailed behind him. "Gavin, if you ever tel anyone your laird slept during the day, I'l make certain you meet both sisters."
"What nap?" Gavin called out.
Even Marcus joined in their laughter. Jamie had never seen the dark-haired soldier smile before. She instinctively smiled back. "Why are you all so amused?" she asked.
"Never mind, Jamie," Alec said.
She gave her husband a suspicious look. "Were you just suggesting to your men that my sisters might not be worthy of them?" Her hands settled on her h*ps and she took a step toward him in obvious chal enge.
"I wouldn't saddle a goat with the pair of them."
She let out a loud gasp. He couldn't resist. He took a step forward, then added in a lazy voice, "I don't believe in being cruel to animals, wife. Surely you've noticed that fact by now. I don't use a crop on my steed and I—"
"Are you insulting my family?"
He didn't answer her, just gave her that irresistible lopsided grin she liked so much. She couldn't help but laugh. The man was completely hopeless.
"You're as shameful as they come, Kincaid. I now realize you simply don't know my family well enough to make a correct evaluation. I shal , of course, take care of that matter as soon as possible."
His grin faltered. She sweetened her smile. "I shal ask them to pay us a visit, husband. A nice, long visit."
"What's this supposed to be?" Gavin called out, drawing her attention. The soldier was climbing down from the stool on which he had stood to hang the tapestry.
"Stand back and you can surely see who it is," Jamie called out.
"Is it… good Lord, Alec, I just hung—"
"It's will iam, our beloved Conquerer, Gavin. A fair depiction I'm told. He was quite a handsome man, don't you think?"
No one said a word for a long minute. Gavin and Marcus were both staring at Alec to judge his reaction.
Their laird was staring at his wife, a most incredulous look on his face.
Marcus was the first to recover. "He was fat."
"He was solid, Marcus, not fat," Jamie corrected.
"What in God's name is that thing above his head?" Gavin asked, backing up yet another step. "That yel ow thing."
"It's a halo," Jamie explained.
"You sainted the man?" Marcus asked.
"It isn't official just yet," Jamie said. "But it's only a matter of time before the church does acknowledge his sainthood."
"Why?" It was Marcus who asked what all three men were thinking.
Jamie was pleased that her husband and his soldiers were showing such interest in her history. She took her time explaining to them how willliam had single-handedly changed the way of life in England. In great detail she instructed them in the ways of the liege lord, the duties of a vassal, the bond each formed with the other. When she was finished, she was sure they had many questions to ask her.
No one, however, seemed inclined to ask her anything. "Do you think such a system would work here?"
"It already has, Jamie, for several hundred years," Alec snapped.
"You've just described the Scottish clan, lass," Gavin said, trying to soften her disappointment in her husband's reaction.
"Tear it down."
"Alec, you cannot mean it," Jamie cried. "My sisters spent long hours working on that tapestry. It was a present for my birthday. I want to look at it whenever the mood strikes me."
Father Murdock strol ed into the hall in time to overhear Jamie's remark. One good look above the hearth told him the reason for his laird's scowl.
He could see an argument was brewing. He didn't want the little lass's feelings injured and hurried to intervene in her behalf. "Now, now, Alec, she isn't meaning to insult you by putting your enemy's likeness in your home."
"Oh, no, of course I didn't mean to insult him," Jamie said. "He, on the other hand, is certainly testing my patience, I can tel you that much."
"I'm testing your patience?" Alec all but strangled on his urge to shout. Her delicate nature was the only reason he held back.
"You certainly are, Alec Kincaid," Jamie continued. "This is my home, too, isn't it? I should be all owed to hang any tapestry I want to."
Jamie and Father Murdock frowned at Alec. Gavin and Marcus were smiling. Jamie gave Alec her back.
"Father, will you help me carry this chair into the hall ? Or is this against your rules too, Alec?"
Father Murdock gave the piece of furniture a thorough inspection. "There are warped blades of wood stuck to the bottom," he noted aloud.
"Something's wrong here, lass."
"The chair's supposed to rock back and forth," Jamie patiently explained.
The priest wobbled his eyebrows in reaction to her statement. "I know," she said then. "It will never catch on. Stil , it's a most comfortable chair. You must try it, Father."
"Perhaps another time," the priest said, taking a step away from the strange-looking contraption.
Alec let his exasperation show. He lifted the chair and carried it down the three steps, then crossed the room with long strides and placed the chair adjacent to the hearth. He tried not to look up at will iam's ugly face smiling down at him.