Jamie shook her head. She helped Edith stand up. "You're a very important member of this clan, Edith. I would never send you away. I lied about Helena, too. I haven't taken her place."
Edith shook her head. "But you're Alec's wife now."
"That doesn't mean we all pretend Helena never existed."
When Edith nodded, Jamie whispered, "It's painful for him."
"I don't know," Edith whispered. "I was sure he didn't care. They weren't married long, milady. There wasn't even time to bring her daughter—"
She hadn't meant to shout, but Edith's casual y spoken words so startled her that she could barely keep her expression contained. "Father Murdock said Alec and Helena were married only two months."
Edith nodded. "Alec was pledged to Annie," she said. "King Edgar changed his mind. Annie… well , she wasn't growing up quick enough, and Helena had just lost her husband. His name was Kevin. He died protecting his king. Helena was swol en with Kevin's child."
Jamie almost fel down. Marcus grabbed hold of her arm to steady her. "Are you ill , milady?" he asked.
"I'm not ill ," Jamie countered. "I'm bloody furious. Edith, how long was Helena wed to Kevin?"
"Now, tel me about this child," she demanded.
"She had a daughter," Edith announced. "Helena was waiting for Alec's return to go and get her. The little girl was being cared for by Kevin's mother."
Edith led Jamie over to the table when her mistress announced she needed to sit down. "You are ill ," Edith stammered out. "I've caused you to—"
"Well, hel , no one tel s me anything," Jamie shouted. "My mother was carrying me when she wed my stepfather. And if you think I'l let that—"
Jamie finally got hold of her emotions. She noticed the soldiers worried expressions. She took a deep, calming breath, then managed a smile.
"Edith and I have settled this little dispute. We're both sorry you had to witness our unladylike conduct. Now, then, I don't want either of you to mention this to Alec.
You'd only embarrass us and irritate him. Isn't that right, Edith?"
She waited for Edith's quick nod, then said, "Edith, you will continue to see to the household matters. I would like to help you every now and again.
Do you think we might have something other than mutton for dinner tonight? I do hate mutton."
Edith smiled. Her eyes fil ed with tears again. "What is this daughter's name?" Jamie asked her.
"Mary Kathleen," Edith answered. "Kevin's family has some Irish blood."
"Mary is also my sister's name," Jamie said, smiling. "And how old is this child now?"
"Three years," Edith answered. "I haven't seen my niece since the birthing. I heard Kevin's mother died three months past. A distant relation takes care of Mary now."
It took all of Jamie's determination not to let her anger show. Edith looked as if she wanted to cry again, and Jamie didn't have time to soothe her.
Her mind was busy racing with her plans. "There is much for the two of us to discuss, cousin, but later, after you've repaired your hair, will be soon enough."
That remark accomplished Jamie's goal. Edith immediately bounded to her feet. "My hair has come undone?" she asked, clearly appalled. She patted the sides of her crown while she waited for an answer.
"Just a little," Jamie told her, trying not to smile.
Edith made a curtsy, then rushed out of the room.
Jamie let out a long sigh. "You've had quite a day, Jamie."
Gavin remarked. "First you battle a fire and then you battle a determined woman."
"Actual y, I battled a fat boar, then Alec, then the fire, and last, Edith," she corrected with a smile.
"A boar? You battled with a boar?" Gavin shouted.
"I'm just jesting with you," she admitted. As soon as Gavin lost some of his angry expression, she told him what happened.
When she'd finished, she couldn't help but notice how incredulous the warriors looked. "So you see, I didn't actually battle the boar. I just got in his way. Do you know this child? His name is Lindsay."
Gavin had to sit down before giving her answer. "We know of his clan."
"My God, Jamie," Marcus began, "his father is a powerful—"
"Ruthless," Gavin interjected.
"Laird," Marcus finished.
"You could have gotten yourself kil ed," Gavin shouted as he bounded back to his feet.
"Don't censure her, Gavin," Marcus countered. "I'm sure Alec must have—"
"I didn't exactly tel him," Jamie interrupted.
The men let her know what they thought of that sin. "Quit your scowls," Jamie ordered. "I promised that child I wouldn't be tel ing on him. I see no reason to tel Alec what happened. He'l only worry. I'l have your word on this, Gavin. Yours, too, Marcus."
Both warriors immediately agreed. Neither, of course, meant to honor her request, but they wanted to appease her now.
"Did anything else happen that you've forgotten to mention?" Gavin drawled out.
"Give me time," Jamie countered. "The day's not half done, if you'l remember."
Gavin smiled, and miracle of miracles, Marcus smiled again, too. "It has been quite a morning," she said with a sigh. "Marcus, do you know where Mary Kathleen is?"
He nodded. "Is it a fair distance away from here?"
"Three hours' ride," he stated with a shrug.
"Then we'd best get started right away."
"I beg your pardon, milady?" Marcus asked. He turned to give Gavin a puzzled look, wondering if he'd understood their mistress's announcement.
Jamie had already disappeared behind the screen.
"We'l leave at once," she called out. She peeked around the corner. "You wouldn't mind taking me, would you, Marcus? 'Tis the truth, even with proper directions, I would probably get lost."
"Where are we going?" Marcus asked.
"To see my daughter."
It was a lie, of course, for Jamie had no intention of merely seeing her daughter. She couldn't very well tel the soldiers the full truth, however, not if she wanted to gain their cooperation.
Besides, she guessed they'd find out soon enough.
Mary Kathleen was coming home where she belonged.
And that was that.
Alec's patience was nearing the shouting point. He blamed his ill temper on the fact that the early afternoon training session wasn't going at all well .
It was teeth-grinding, frustrating work, for he was now instructing the younger, unseasoned warriors.
Young David, Laird Timothy's second son, bore the brunt of Alec's frustration. The boy didn't seem to get any better, no matter how long he trained.
Alec knocked David and his sword to the ground for the third time, using the back of his bare hand to add humiliation to his lesson in defense.
David's weapon went flying. It would have found a target in another soldier's leg if the older warrior hadn't sidestepped just in time.
"I should kil you now and be done with it," Alec roared at the boy. "David, you won't last five minutes in true battle unless you learn to pay attention to what you're doing. And hold on to your weapon, for God's sake."
Before the yel ow-haired warrior could respond to that criticism, Alec hauled him to his feet. He had David by the throat now, thinking he might just strangle a bit of good sense into his head one way or another. When David's freckled face turned blotchy, Alec knew he had his full attention.
"Alec?" one of the soldiers called out.
Alec tossed David to the ground before turning to the soldier. He noticed the silence then. His soldiers had all quit their tasks without gaining his permission. That fact settled in his mind a scant second before he realized they were all staring at the top of the hil .
He knew before he turned around that Jamie was somehow responsible for this interruption. She was the only one who could cause such astonishment in his usual y disciplined older soldiers, the only one to incite such chaos.
He had to brace himself, then thought he was prepared for just about anything, yet the sight of his wife riding down the hil on Wildfire's back did take his breath away. She was riding bareback, her hair flying out behind her, and Alec was afraid to move lest he startle her. She'd surely fal to the ground then and break her stubborn neck.
She rode like a queen. Even from the distance separating them, Alec could see her soft, beguiling smile.
Wildfire trotted down toward the slope where Alec and his men waited. Gavin and Marcus rode their mounts behind her.
Alec motioned Jamie over to his side with an arrogant wave of his hand. Though he was determined to hold on to his anger over her rude interruption of his duties, he was finding it a difficult endeavor. Pride kept getting in the way of his goal, his pride in his wife's horsemanship.
He lost his anger altogether when he spotted the bow and quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder.
He tried not to laugh.
Jamie obeyed her husband's command without any visible movement on the reins. She stopped Wildfire by using the pressure of her knees to give her command.
Alec suddenly wanted to feel the pressure of her knees around him again.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"With bow and arrow?"
"Yes," Jamie answered, wondering over the irritation in her husband's voice. "One must always be prepared for any eventuality," she added. "I might also do a spot of hunting."
His moods were as unpredictable as the wind, she decided, for now he looked as if he wanted to laugh at her. There was a definite sparkle in his eyes. She heard several loud chuckles from the crowd of soldiers gathered in front of her, glared at the offenders for being so rude, and then turned back to Alec.
"You're serious, aren't you, wife?"
"You couldn't hit the side of our stables," Alec announced. "Yet you think to kil a moving target?"
"You think not?"
"I know not."
"You should have more faith in your wife," Jamie muttered as she slowly slipped the curved bow from her shoulder and reached for one of her arrows.
It was high time she set the man straight, she decided. Jamie had noticed a brown hide anchored to the large bale of hay farther down the slope.
There were a good fifteen arrows clustered around the center of the hide. She motioned to the target, then said, "Wil you let me hunt if I prove my skil to you?"
Marcus coughed, obviously trying to disguise his laughter. Jamie turned to frown at him while she waited for her husband to answer.
"I would not let you disgrace yourself so in front of my men," Alec announced. He wanted to goad her temper with his insolent remark, knew he'd accomplished that goal when she turned back to him. She looked as if she wanted to strangle him.
"I won't disgrace myself."
He had the audacity to grin at her. "Kindly get out of my way, husband," she ordered. "You may laugh later," she snapped when she saw how much trouble he was having restraining himself. "If you feel so inclined."
Alec nodded, then backed several feet away.
As soon as Jamie fit her arrow to her bow, the soldiers started running for safety. Jamie guessed they didn't have much faith in her ability, either.
Wildfire's head kept getting in her way. Jamie let out a sigh. She slipped off her shoes, then stood up on the mare's back, balancing herself as graceful y as a dancer. She took aim and shot her arrow a second before Alec reached her side. Jamie sat back down on Wildfire's back, patted her horse soundly for standing so stil , and then smiled at Alec.
"Now why are you angry?" she demanded.
"You will never take such chances again, wife."
His shout nearly ripped Wildfire's mane apart. The horse immediately tried to bolt, but Alec grabbed the reins and had Wildfire docile in little time.
He couldn't help but notice that Jamie never lost her balance or showed the least amount of fear.
"What are you ranting about?" Jamie asked. "What chance did I take?"
He could tel from her expression she really didn't know why he was upset with her. He took a deep breath, trying to regain his control. When she'd stood up, his heart had stopped beating.
"You could have kil ed yourself," he muttered between clenched teeth. "If anyone's going to kil you, it's going to be me. Don't ever stand on your mount's back again. Not ever."
"I'm used to riding that way when the mood strikes me, Alec. While she gal ops through a meadow I do sometimes stand up."
"'Tis the truth," she said. "Would you like me to show—"
"Don't yel at me, Alec. It's upsetting Wildfire."
"It's you I want upset, wife," Alec returned. "Give me your word."
"Oh, all right, then," Jamie said. "I give you my word. Are you happy now?"
"Then please remove your hand from my leg. Your grip is painful."
"Wife, do you know how close you are to real jeopardy?"
She didn't look at all worried by that threat. "Alec?"
"How long have you had that tic in your cheek?"
He didn't answer her.
"Her arrow ain't near the others," the young soldier named David called out. The eager boy picked up Jamie's shoes and offered them to her.
Jamie thanked him and quickly put them on.
"Of course my arrow isn't near the others," she told the soldier.
"You knew you'd miss?" he asked.
"I didn't miss," she countered. "You'l find my arrow in the very center. Go and fetch it for me please."
David ran back down the hil to the target. He let out a whoop of laughter. "She's right," he shouted. "Her arrow is in the center."
Jamie was watching Alec when that statement was shouted. She ignored the men's cheers. Her husband's reaction was a little disappointing. He merely raised an eyebrow.