"I'm very pleased."
"And?" she prodded, hoping for a little more praise.
She laughed then. Alec certainly wasn't one to hand out compliments. He didn't even know he was supposed to, she guessed.
"Never mind," she replied. She shrugged before she remembered her pleats. One quick look told her she hadn't done any damage, though. "I'm never going to get these folds just so," she remarked.
"We'l practice that, too," Alec promised.
She didn't start to blush until Father Murdock asked what else they were practicing. "Perhaps I could lend my expertise," he suggested eagerly.
"A private matter," Jamie blurted out. "We can't use your assistance, Father, but we both thank you for offering."
Alec's devilish smile widened. "Come along with me, Jamie. The guests are waiting outside to meet you."
"One of your guests is already inside," a stranger called out from the entrance.
Jamie turned to acknowledge their guest, then decided she should be standing by her husband when she was given introduction. She moved to his side and immediately gained his nod of approval.
Alec put his arm around her shoulders. The spontaneous show of possessiveness surprised her almost as much as his hard grip.
"Have a care with my pleats," she whispered.
Alec wasn't paying her any attention, though. His dark gaze was directed on the man approaching them.
His scowl suggested he didn't much care for the man he was about to introduce.
"I was eager to meet your wife, Alec, and took it upon myself to come inside."
Alec's arm tightened around Jamie. "This is Harold's son, Justin."
"I'm pleased to meet you," Jamie said, smiling so he'd think she meant what she'd said. In truth, she wasn't pleased at all . The blond man was appraising her in an earthy way. Only a married man should be able to give his wife that kind of look.
If he'd been a full y grown man, she probably would have given him a proper set down, but the lack of marks on his arms and face indicated he hadn't seen any battles yet. His manners certainly needed improvement, too.
"Not nearly as pleased as I am to meet you, milady," Justin replied.
She gave him an abrupt nod, then suggested in a firm voice that he return to the others. "Alec and I will join you soon," she promised.
Her suggestion was rudely ignored. Justin continued to stand there gaping at her. "Was there something else you wished to say?"
Justin looked embarrassed. "Nay, milady. I—I just enjoy listening to your unusual accent," he stammered out.
"It's an English accent, Justin," she reminded him. "And as appealing to most Scots as the sound of a nail being scraped across a pane of glass."
Marcus let out a loud cough to cover his amusement. Gavin had to turn his back so Justin wouldn't see his reaction.
Justin stil didn't want to give up. "I understand your name is Jamie," he said.
"It's a fine name," he announced.
"It's a man's name, and that's that," Jamie snapped. She was through trying to contain her temper. Justin was staring at her chest. She wanted to kick him.
She couldn't wait to get away from the insolent creature. She wondered why Alec hadn't noticed the boy's shameful conduct and glanced up to look at him.
Alec was smiling. She didn't know what to make of that oddity. Gavin interrupted then with the reminder that the tables had been set up in the courtyard.
Alec nodded. "Direct the servants to begin serving the food. Jamie and I will be along in a few minutes.
Marcus, take Justin with you. He doesn't look capable of making it on his own."
The last of Alec's orders was given in a hard voice. Jamie thought her husband had finally noticed the lustful way their guest was staring at her.
As soon as Alec let go of her, she started toward the screen. She'd left her dagger on the chest the day before and wanted to put it back in her belt before she forgot about it.
Justin tried to fol ow her. Jamie had to give the boy a good frown when he dared to touch her. Justin proved determined, though. It was an embarrassment, for the other men were watching, but Jamie had to slap his hand away from her.
"You aren't perchance related to Laird McPherson, are you, Justin?" she asked.
"Nay, Lady Kincaid," Justin answered, looking puzzled. "I'm not related. Why would you ask such a question?"
"Your manners remind me of the laird," she answered.
She could tel Justin didn't know how to take that remark. Alec understood the insult she'd just given the boy, however. His laughter followed her behind the screen.
The dagger wasn't where she thought she'd left it. Jamie spent several minutes looking for her weapon, then gave up on the task.
She was given quite a fright when she turned around and saw Alec watching her. "You gave me a start."
Alec pul ed her into his arms, ignoring her plea not to ruin her skirt's folds. He lifted her up, until she was at eye level. His mouth was a convenient breath away from hers. "I'l fix your pleats," he promised in a husky growl.
Jamie threaded her fingers through his hair and slowly leaned forward.
He met her halfway. His mouth settled on hers with blatant ownership. His tongue drove inside. He wanted to ravish her, to force any resistance away, but when she rubbed her tongue against his, he realized she didn't need to be convinced. She wanted to be appeased.
A shudder coursed through him; Jamie moaned in response. Alec lifted his mouth away from hers. He wanted to see the passion in her eyes.
"You're hot for me, aren't you, love?" he whispered.
She pul ed on his hair to bring him back to her. He heard her sexy little whimper and gave her a growl in reply. He silenced her noise with another deep, tongue-thrusting kiss, then planted wet kisses along the column of her neck.
He took great delight in tel ing her what he wanted her to do to him with her soft, wet mouth, how he wanted her to take him inside her again, how he wanted to feel her squeezing him tight. He spoke in Gaelic, of course, just to confuse her.
His game trapped him, though, for he wanted her too much now to stop. He carried her over to the bed.
His mouth slanted over hers again and again, all owing her no protest of his obvious intentions. He braced their fal into the center of the covers with his arm. With one forceful motion, he'd spread her legs and positioned himself be tween her thighs. He trapped the sides of her face with his big hands as he thrust his arousal against her.
He was nearly out of control now. Jamie's nails dug into his back. She drew her knees up so she could feel more of him against her. Alec drove his tongue all the way to the back of her throat and started pul ing her clothes off.
Jamie suddenly tensed against him. She began to struggle, too, pushing against his shoulders with surprising strength as she tore her mouth away from his.
He heard the noise then, yet it stil took him painful minutes before he could remember the time of day, his duties, their guests.
With an angry expletive, Alec lifted his head away. He braced himself on his elbows and looked down at the enticing woman sprawled under him.
She looked thoroughly ravished. He nodded with satisfaction. Her lips were a bit swol en, rosy, and too appealing for his peace of mind. He kissed her again, a hard, quick kiss.
"Do you know why I just kissed you, Jamie?"
She shook her head.
"To remind you whom you belong to."
Her eyes widened over that announcement. Alec pul ed her to her feet, then refashioned her plaid with incredible speed.
He was walking away from her when she called out, "Do you know why I kissed you back, husband?"
She was prepared to remind him that he also belonged to her, but the arrogant man wouldn't let her.
"Because you liked it."
His pleats were perfect, she'd give him that. She patted her hair, straightened her shoulders, and went back into the hall .
"Father Murdock will escort you outside. I'l join you soon."
Alec waited until his wife had left the hall , then motioned to the two soldiers stil standing guard above the stairs.
"Don't let her out of your sight," he ordered. "Stay within ten paces of your mistress."
The two soldiers hurried to do his bidding. "Send Colin to me," Alec called out.
"Harold's second-in-command is here, too?" Gavin asked.
Alec nodded. "He has news he wants to share with us," he explained.
"Your wife wasn't very impressed with Justin's handsome looks, was she?" Gavin asked.
"I never thought she'd find him handsome," Alec lied.
Colin must have been waiting right outside the doors, Alec decided, for he was already rushing down the steps to the great hall . The gray-haired man was obviously in quite a hurry to relay his messages to the Kincaid.
The time got away from Alec. He became embroiled in a heated debate about the possible union of the Highland clans. He insisted it wasn't possible. Colin was just as vehement in his opinion that it was very possible.
Alec was damned if he would let Colin leave the hall before agreeing with him. Colin, if the set of his jaw was a true indication, was just as determined to sway Alec's judgment.
Jamie came rushing into the hall . Alec gave his wife only a quick glance before turning back to his guest.
He looked up again when she stood at his side. Alec thought she looked angry enough to spit fire. After giving her a frown to let her know he didn't want to be interrupted, he turned back to Colin.
She wasn't about to be ignored. Jamie prodded his upper arm. She managed a weak smile for the soldier speaking to Alec, then said, "Pray forgive me, sir, for interrupting this discussion."
Alec, believing her anger was due to her impatient nature, was quick with his reply. "You'l have to wait, wife."
"Alec, this can't wait."
"Aren't you capable of handling this problem?"
"I didn't say I wasn't capable," she argued.
"Then handle it."
His tone of voice infuriated her, though not nearly as much as his rude dismissal. He turned his back on her and calmly asked the soldier to continue.
Both Gavin and Marcus gave her sympathetic looks. She nodded to them as she walked back to the entrance.
Alec glanced up when Jamie stopped near the archway. She was staring up at the display of weapons hanging from their hooks. Alec tried to give Colin his undivided attention, but that determination was forgotten when Jamie reached up and tried to lift a long club into her arms.
The weight of the weapon must have been too much for her. Her grip lessened and the club bounced to the floor with a resounding thud.
She was determined, however. She'd gained everyone's full attention, too. No one said a word as they watched Jamie drag the club up the stairs and out the doorway.
Alec could hear her muttering over the clatter the club was making on the stone floor.
He continued to stare at the entrance a long while after she'd gone, wondering what in God's name his gentle little wife needed a club for.
The answer came to him in a blinding flash. Justin!
Alec bounded out of his chair with a roar of fury. The sound nearly drowned out the screams coming from the courtyard.
Alec ran outside, trailed by the three soldiers. The scene he witnessed so astonished him, he stopped in his tracks.
The priest was standing next to Jamie. The look on Father Murdock's face was one of stunned disbelief.
Jamie wasn't looking at the priest, though. No, she was staring at the ground, frowning intently at Harold's son. The future laird was sprawled on his stomach and trying without much success to regain his feet.
"If you ever try to touch me again, I'l hit you twice as hard," Jamie shouted. "I'l have your word, Justin, before I let you up."
"Milady," Father Murdock interrupted, all but strangling on his words. "He doesn't understand—"
Jamie didn't let the priest finish his sentence. She assumed he meant to tel her Justin didn't understand her language. "Oh, he knows why I hit him, all right," she stated, speaking in Gaelic now. "He understands."
"But, Jamie, lass," Father Murdock said, trying to explain once again.
The man on the ground dared to look furious instead of contrite. He was slow to learn his lesson, Jamie decided. "How dare you touch me?" she asked in a furious voice. "I'm Alec Kincaid's wife, you fool.
And I happen to love the man with a passion you'l probably never even imagine."
"Milady?" Gavin interrupted.
"Stay out of this, Gavin," Jamie commanded. She didn't dare take her gaze away from the soldier on the ground, or let up her hold on her weapon.
"Alec has instructed me to take care of this problem and I won't have your interference. I told Justin I'd come back with something to make his knees weak and I did."
"He isn't Justin."
Alec made that statement. He stood so close to Jamie's back that she could feel his heat. "This isn't the time for jests, Alec," she stated before turning around. "That shameful, ill -disciplined boy grabbed hold of me and dared to kiss me. Just look what he did to my pleats," she added as she whirled around to show him the evidence.
"You hit Philip," Alec told her. "Not Justin."
"I didn't. He's—"
"Philip, you say?"
He slowly nodded. He didn't look as if he was jesting. A knot immediately formed in Jamie's stomach. "I don't understand, Alec," she whispered.
"He looks like—"
"They are twins."
"Oh, God, not twins."
He nodded again. "Identical."
She was horrified. A crowd had gathered, too, making her humiliation all the more stinging. "Well, spit," she muttered, low enough for only Alec to hear. "Why didn't you tel me? I've injured the wrong man."
Jamie immediately dropped her weapon and tried to help her victim to his feet so she wouldn't have to look at her husband's dark expression any longer. Philip, however, refused to accept her assistance.
The poor man obviously thought she was daft. "I'm sorry I hit you, Philip. No one bothered to tel me you had a twin brother, you see," she added with a meaningful glance in her husband's direction. "I'm buying you another indulgence for that sin, Alec."