She was so relieved by this news that her shoulders slumped. "Wel , why didn't you tel me? I've been fretting like a child over this loyalty issue, Alec, and all for naught. You could have mentioned that Edgar and Henry were good friends, husband."

Jamie carried Mary behind the screen before Alec could tel her he thought she was daft.


"Why did you let her think Edgar and Henry were good friends?" Gavin asked.

"For the same reason you softened your answers about Edgar to her," Alec answered dryly. "None of us want her to worry. We're all bent on making her happy, now, aren't we?"

Gavin grinned. "Aye, we are."

They shared a laugh, but the sound was drowned out by all the noise the women were making. Jamie, Elizabeth, Edith, and Annie were taking turns bathing Mary Kathleen.

"She's a beautiful child," Elizabeth remarked.

"We must tel her so," Jamie advised. "Often. She mustn't ever feel she doesn't belong."

The bath was finally finished. Jamie stood Mary on the chest and gave her hair a proper trim.

The little girl didn't seem the least bit shy with the women, but it was stil obvious she preferred Jamie's attention most of all . Once she was dressed in a clean white sleeping gown Edith had provided, she reached up for Jamie to hold her.

While Mary ate her dinner, Edith went upstairs with Annie to make her bedroom ready for her. It had been decided that Mary would sleep in the chamber next to Alec and Jamie. If the child cried out in the night, Jamie was certain she'd hear her.

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"Al mothers are light sleepers," she stated. "We instinctively know when our daughters need us. You'l understand what I'm saying, Elizabeth, after your baby is born."

Jamie's voice was so enthuasiastic, Elizabeth didn't have the heart to remind her she'd only been a mother for half a day. She agreed instead.

"Angus grows impatient to have the threads taken out of his chest wound," she reminded Jamie. "He's waiting at the table for you."

"You sit next to him," Jamie replied. "He won't shout as much if you're near."

"It will pain him?"

"Don't be fretting," Jamie soothed. "It won't hurt him at all . He'l be shouting over the inconvenience of it all , though."

Elizabeth hurried over to the table to do as Jamie suggested. Alec had just started a fire in the hearth. His back was turned to Jamie, but once he'd stood and noticed her, he only had enough time to accept the daughter she thrust into his arms.

Alec didn't have any idea what was expected of him now. Stil , he wanted to please Jamie. He stared down at Mary, holding her awkwardly under her arms.

"You're not afraid of me, are you, Mary?" he asked in Gaelic. "I'm your papa now."

She shook her head, then gave him a smile.

Alec smiled back.

He was ready to put her down, but when he tried, Mary let him know she wasn't ready to leave him. She grabbed hold of his tunic and stiffened against him.

Alec perched her on his shoulders instead. The child liked that well enough. She let out a shriek of laughter and wiggled her toes with obvious delight.

Jamie nearly dropped the supplies she'd gone to fetch, when she rounded the corner of the screen and saw what Alec was doing. "You don't hold a child like that," she called out. "And for God's sake, Alec, don't shrug at me again. You'l send Mary flying through the air."

"I'm new to this, Jamie," Alec muttered. "She's the first child I've ever held." He pul ed Mary back into his arms while he continued to frown at his wife.

"You'l get used to her," Jamie announced.

Alec had to glare at Marcus and Gavin then so they'd quit their disrespectful smiles.

Then he carried Mary over to the rocking chair, settled her on his lap, and ordered her to go to sleep.

Mary tried to climb up his chest instead. She was just as suspicious of the moving chair as he'd been, and he had to soothe her back down into his lap.

Jamie had turned her back on the two of them and was giving Angus her undivided attention. Alec drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair, wondering what in God's name he was supposed to do now.

He decided he might as well try tel ing a bedtime story. It took him a minute to pick his favorite, and then he related, in full , the tale of one of his finest battles.

In short minutes, he had Mary Kathleen enthral ed. Her eyes had widened to saucers again and she seemed to be hanging on his every word.

Gavin and Marcus also became interested in the bloody tale. They pul ed up stools near the hearth and took turns offering grunts of approval during the telling.

Jamie could hear Alec's soft burr in the background, but she wasn't paying any attention to what he was saying. Angus was letting her know how unhappy he was because she wouldn't let him remove the slats from his arm. "Your fingers are moving now, Angus, but that doesn't mean the healing's done. No, you have a good month, mayhap more, wearing this contraption, and that's that. Elizabeth, his chest has healed nicely, hasn't it?"

"It has," Elizabeth replied. "We are both very thankful to you, Jamie. Aren't we, Angus?"

"Aye, we are," Angus agreed.

It looked as though it pained him to make that confession. Jamie tried not to laugh. She'd already learned that Angus's gruff manner hid a soft heart.

She smiled at Elizabeth, then hurried to put her supplies away. It was time to take Mary Kathleen upstairs. The little girl was surely exhausted from her long day.

Yet when she turned the comer again and saw Alec holding Mary in his lap, she didn't have the heart to interrupt. Lord, she really must be exhausted, too. Why, her eyes fil ed up with tears over the wonderful sight.

He was tel ing his daughter a bedtime story. No, she qualified with a smile. He was tel ing Mary, Marcus, Gavin, and Angus a bedtime story. God's truth, the men looked just as engrossed in the tale as the three-year-old.

She loved Alec with all her heart. He was such a gentle, compassionate man. She felt like laughing now.

Alec would certainly take great exception if he guessed she thought him kind, and she wondered how he was going to react when she finally confessed her love to him.

It didn't matter if he accepted her love or not, she thought with a sudden frown. In time, she was sure he'd see the rightness in it. Why, with proper prodding, he might even begin to love her, too.

How could she have ever thought the Scots were inferior? She had to shake her head over that shameful sin, then started forward to hear this story that held everyone so captivated.

Not everyone was captivated, she noticed when she saw Elizabeth's expression. Angus's wife looked positively horrified.

And then she caught one of Alec's remarks. "The mighty blow severed his arm…"

"What are you tel ing that child?" she demanded in a near shout.

"Just a story," Alec answered. "Why?"

"What specific story?" Jamie asked. She rushed forward to snatch Mary out of Alec's lap.

"The battle with the Northumbrians," he answered.

"In vivid detail," Elizabeth informed her.

Jamie's irritation vanished in the face of her husband's obvious confusion over her reaction. "Alec, you'l give this baby nightmares with such talk."

"She liked the story," Alec argued. "Give her back to me, Jamie. I've stil to tel the ending."

"Aye, he has to finish the tale," Gavin interjected.

"She's going to bed." Jamie laughed then, in spite of her better intentions. "I cannot believe you'd tel a sweet child a battle story."

It soon became apparent to her that Alec and his soldiers couldn't believe she'd take exception to the tale.

"Give Mary a good night kiss," Jamie instructed. She handed the child back to her father and watched him place a gentle kiss on her brow.

"Go to your bed now, Mary," Alec told the child in a soft whisper. "I'l finish your story tomorrow."

When he put the little girl down, she hurried over to the hearth and stretched out on the rushes. "Does she think that's where she's supposed to sleep?" Alec asked.

Jamie chased after Mary and picked her up before answering. "I suppose she does," she said. "Her grandmother must have been very good to her, though. Mary has such a sweet disposition. 'Tis proof she hasn't been mistreated long."

"Why is that proof?" Alec asked.

"When a child is treated cruel y, sometimes the mind becomes twisted, Alec, or so I've been told. Why are you looking at me like that?" she added in a worried tone. "You look… stunned. We needn't worry about our Mary, Alec."

Alec forced a grin. "I never worry," he said. "You do enough for the both of us."

She decided to ignore that ridiculous statement. "May we sleep upstairs tonight, Alec? I want to be near Mary. She might need me during the night."

He was the one who needed her during the night. That thought popped into his mind all at once, causing a fierce frown. Hel , she was supposed to need him.

He looked at little Mary. The child's face rested against Jamie's shoulder. Her eyes were closed, her expression bordering on blissful. It was very apparent she liked being held by Jamie.

The bruises would fade away from the child's back and legs, and Alec knew that Jamie would soon be able to soothe away any hurt lingering inside the child's mind. Aye, his wife would make Mary Kathleen content… as content as her magical love had made him.

She did love him. The way she looked at him told him so. She might not have reckoned with the truth yet, but Alec was certain that, in time, and with enough prodding, she'd settle in to accepting her fate. He had.

God must have had a hand in sending Jamie to him, he decided, because if anyone had told him a year ago that he'd love an opinionated, bad-tempered, contrary English woman, he would have laughed first and then flattened the man for suggesting such a notion.

He guessed he'd have to tel her he loved her. Alec quit his scowl. He'd tel her tonight, he decided. In Gaelic. Just to be contrary.

"Alec? will you be needing to speak to me again tonight?" Angus asked, interrupting his laird's thoughts.

"No, Angus. Take Elizabeth home. We'l discuss our plans again tomorrow."

Gavin waited until Angus had taken Elizabeth outside before questioning Alec. Though he was sure Elizabeth wouldn't repeat anything she overheard, he didn't want to upset her. "What plan are you thinking of, Alec? Do you know who tried to kil Jamie?"

"You're not including us in your discussion?" Marcus asked.

"Quit your frown, Marcus," Alec ordered. "I haven't had time to include the two of you yet. You did check the bedrooms, didn't you, Gavin?"

The soldier nodded. "And I've been watching the doors ever since. Edith is waiting in Mary's room. She wants permission from Jamie to sleep with Mary tonight in case the child awakens."

"The soldiers are stil stationed below your window, milord," Marcus added.

"Put two more at the bottom of the steps, Marcus. No one goes up those stairs."

"Do you know who it is?" Gavin asked again.

"I'm almost certain," Alec returned. His expression turned grim. "Tomorrow we set the trap. I've been looking in the wrong direction. And if I'm right, once this is over, Father Murdock will have to bless Helena's grave."

"I don't understand," Marcus whispered.

"If I'm right," Alec repeated, "Helena didn't kil herself. She was murdered."

He guards her like a precious treasure. The fool! Does he actually think he can stop me?

I'm too cunning for the Kincaid. The time has come to challenge him once again. I'll kill the bitch tomorrow.

The child will have to wait.… It can only be one pleasure at a time .

God give me the strength to hide my joy.

Chapter Sixteen

Jamie was sound asleep when Alec finally came to bed. She looked beautiful to him, peaceful, too. He really shouldn't wake her up, he thought, even as he moved the blanket away and pul ed her into his arms.

She grumbled in her sleep, then threw one slender leg over his thigh. The woman was giving him hel even in her sleep, for when he trailed his fingers down her back, she mumbled something he didn't understand but guessed was shameful, then slapped his hand away when she rol ed over on her back.

He wasn't at all deterred. Her nightgown was bunched up around her thighs, and in the soft candlelight, her skin was dappled gold. Her legs were tangled in the covers. Alec kicked the covers out of the way before trapping her with one thigh. He made short work of removing her gown, smiling over the muttering that action caused. She could even look disgruntled when she was sleeping.

He moved her hair out of his way, trailing the silky rose-scented strands through his fingers as he nuzzled the side of her neck.

She sighed with pleasure. Alec raised his head to look at her. He smiled when he saw that she didn't look at all irritated now. He kissed her softly parted lips, the center of her chin, her neck again, then moved lower to kiss the gooseflesh on her chest.

Her shivers woke her up. She wasn't at all cold, though. No, she was getting warmer with each moment… with each kiss. Alec was caressing her br**sts with his hands, his mouth, his tongue.

He was such a gentle lover with her, she thought in wonder. He could make her melt in his arms. His hand moved down to circle her navel, then lower stil , until his fingers were stroking the soft curls between her thighs.

Her body was ready for him. She was hot, wet, and as her sweet moans told him, almost as wild with need as he was. He teased her stomach with his tongue. She clung to him and finally pul ed on his hair when she'd had enough of that torment.

"You make me ache to have you, Jamie," he whispered.

"Have me now, Alec," she whispered. "Don't make me wait any longer. I want…"

Her moan of pleasure when his fingers stretched inside her ended her plea. She arched against him even as she tried to pul his hand away. "Stop this torment, husband. Come to me now."

Her hands moved down to capture him. "Two can play this game," she whispered, her voice a husky promise.

Alec groaned deep in his throat, then pul ed her hand away. "Not tonight, she can't," he whispered. "I can't hold back much longer, Jamie."

He moved between her legs, cupped her thighs, and thrust inside her with one powerful surge.

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