Silas had accidental y sliced his upper arm instead of the side of treated hide he was trying to carve into a saddle lining.

The injury was minor and didn't require searing with a hot knife, yet Jamie stil had to spend a good long while soothing the old man after she'd cleaned and wrapped the injury.


He needed pampering, and that was that.

Merlin stood by cook's side during the commotion. He was a little jealous of all the attention Silas was getting from their mistress. He was also extremely anxious because he couldn't seem to remember that other bit of information he'd been ordered to relate to her.

Jamie finally finished her task and left Silas in Cholie's capable hands. She knew the two servants would share at least one jug of ale between them, but didn't think that was too sinful, considering Silas's upset and Cholie's need to give comfort the only way she knew how.

"I can only put out one fire at a time," she told Merlin when he reminded her of the fuss going on up at the main house. She smiled to soften her rebuke, then left the worried-looking cattle keeper. Jamie ran all the way up the hil , her skirts raised to her knees. Three playful greyhounds ran alongside her. Neither Jamie nor her pets slowed down until they'd rushed through the open door and entered the great hall .

She came to an abrupt halt then. The two warriors leaning casual y against the mantel immediately caught her attention.

Jamie was simply too stunned to hide her initial reaction. God's truth, they were the biggest men she'd ever seen. She couldn't quit staring at them.

It was unfortunate, too, for the first words out of her mouth weren't very ladylike. "Good God!"

It was only a whispered exclamation, strangled out at that, but Jamie could tel by the way the bigger of the two giants raised his right eyebrow that he'd heard her.

She didn't dare curtsy, knowing full well she'd land on her face if she tried. And she couldn't seem to pul her gaze away from the tal er of the two men, either, the one now trying to stare her to her knees.

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He was the meanest-looking man she'd ever seen.

She told herself she wasn't afraid. Nay, she was too angry to be frightened. Jamie stood her ground, meeting the warrior's gaze a long minute until she could regain a little composure, then realized that as long as she continued to stare at him, she'd never be able to accomplish that feat.

Jamie finally noticed the silence that permeated the great hall . She glanced over her shoulder and saw her sisters then. The three of them were lined up like common criminals, looking as if they were about to be executed with arrows.

As soon as Agnes caught Jamie's sympathetic gaze, she started crying. Alice put her arm around her twin's shoulders, obviously intent on offering her solace. The plan failed, however, and she also burst into tears. Within a blink of the eye, the two of them had worked themselves up into hysteria.

Mary stood next to Agnes. She looked as if she, too, wanted to cry. Her hands were clasped in front of her, and after giving Jamie a "dear Lord, will you look at them" look, she turned her gaze to the floor.

Something had to be done. The twins couldn't be all owed to disgrace the family in front of the Scots.

"Agnes, Alice, cease your weeping immediately."

Both sisters mopped at the corners of their eyes and tried to control themselves.

Jamie noticed her father then. He was sitting at the table, pouring himself a drink from one of the two jugs in front of him.

It was up to her to offer a proper, civilized English greeting, she supposed. She knew what her duty was.

Yet the urge to shout at the strangers that they were three whole days early, for God's sake, was very nearly overwhelming.

Duty won out. Besides, the two Scots were probably too dul -witted to realize how uncouth their behavior was.

Jamie slowly walked over to stand directly in front of the two men. She remembered the dogs at her sides when she heard them growling at the strangers, dismissed them with a quick wave of her hand, then made a curtsy befitting her status as mistress of her home. A lock of hair fel over her left eye when she bowed her head, ruining the haughty effect she was trying to achieve. Jamie tossed the hair back over her shoulder and tried to manage a smile.

"I'd like to welcome both of you to our humble home, for no one else seems capable of extending that courtesy," she began. "And I do hope you'l forgive our unreadiness to receive you, but if you'l only remember you're a good three days early, you might more easily endure our lack of preparations."

She stared at their boots while she made that speech, then ventured a quick look up when she added, "My name is—"

"Lady Jamie." The shorter of the two giants made that statement.

Jamie had been staring at the space between the two warriors and immediately turned to look at the one who'd just spoken.

He wasn't as mean-looking as the other one. Jamie came to that conclusion when he smiled at her. He had an appealing dent in the side of his cheek when he smiled, too, and his green eyes were alive with mischief.

Jamie was immediately suspicious. The man seemed to be entirely too happy for such dour circumstances, what with Alice and Agnes weeping like infants. Perhaps, she decided, he was too simple-headed to understand the disruption he was causing. He was a Scotsman, after all .

"And your name, milord?" she asked, her voice cool.

"Daniel," he answered. "He's called Alec," he drawled out with a nod toward his companion.

Daniel's smile was proving to be contagious. This one was definitely a charmer, Jamie thought. She couldn't help but smile back, either, for the man had such a ridiculous burr in his speech that she could barely understand him.

She didn't really want to talk to the other lord, but she knew she had to. Jamie kept smiling, then slowly turned to look up at the other warrior.

He'd been waiting for her to look at him. Jamie could feel her smile freeze on her face. His gaze, surely as hot as the midday sun, easily intimidated her.

He wasn't smiling.

Jamie was suddenly embarrassed and didn't know why. She'd never felt this vulnerable in all her days.

She felt her cheeks grow warm and knew she'd started blushing. There was such possessiveness in his stare, a look of ownership she couldn't understand.

It suddenly dawned on her that Lord Alec wasn't looking at her the way a true lord would look at a gentle lady of breeding. No, it was an earthy lustful look he was giving her.

He was being outrageously insolent. He gave her a slow, thoroughly insulting inspection, starting at the top of her head and ending a long while later at the bottom of her gown. His gaze lingered on her mouth, her br**sts and her hips.

She hated him.

He made her feel as though she were standing there without a stitch of clothing on. Jamie was infuriated with him. She wasn't about to let him get away with his behavior, either. No, she was going to give as good as she was getting. She couldn't control her blush, but she prayed she looked just as insolent as he had when she slowly gave him the same disgustingly thorough inspection.

Unfortunately, the warrior didn't seem the least bit offended by her imitation. He looked amused. She thought his eyes warmed a little and noticed his eyebrow rose again in reaction to her appraisal.

There was something there, in his gaze, that tugged at her heart. She couldn't put her finger on it, but she was beginning to think that if he hadn't been so mean-looking, she might have found him handsome. That was ridiculous, of course. She'd already made up her mind to hate him. The man was too hard for her liking. He was in desperate need of a good hair trim, too. Why, the back of his reddish brown hair went way beyond the neckline of his black tunic. The hair curled a bit, reminding her of the Greek warriors she'd seen drawings of, but it certainly didn't soften his angular face or his square, unforgiving chin. His mouth looked as hard as the rest of him.

Oh, he was entirely too fierce-looking to please her. And why her heart was pounding such a wild beat was beyond her comprehension. The longer she met his gaze, the more breathless she became.

A single thought kept her from feeling like a complete fool. One of her poor sisters was going to have to marry this warlord from hel .

She started shivering.

He smiled.

Baron Jamison suddenly called out to both warriors to join him at the table for a taste of wine.

Daniel immediately moved away from the mantel and strol ed over to the table. He paused on his way to wink at Mary.

Alec didn't move. Neither did Jamie. She couldn't make herself stop staring up at him.

He didn't want to stop looking at her.

"Do you have a priest in residence?"

His voice had sounded harsh. He couldn't help that, he decided, for he was stil reacting to the amazingly beautiful woman standing so defiantly before him. Her eyes were the most bril iant shade of violet. She was quite magnificent, yet Alec was just as impressed with the rebel ious streak he could easily see.

This one wouldn't be easily intimidated. He didn't think she'd ever cower away from him. And no other woman had ever been able to match his stare this long, this courageously.

Alec's smile widened. She was a worthy adversary, all right. He knew she was afraid of him; he had seen her tremble. Yet she valiantly tried to hide her fear from him.

She'd survive in the rugged Highlands, given care and attention, but he would have to take every precaution. She was so delicate looking. He'd have to quel the rebel iousness in her without breaking her spirit. It would be a chore, true, but Alec didn't mind. In truth, he was already looking forward to the taming.

And in the end, he would conquer and she would submit.

Jamie didn't have the faintest idea what the warrior was thinking. She finally found her voice and answered his question. "We do have a priest in residence, milord." Heaven help her, the shiver was now in her voice. "You've chosen, then?"

"I have."

"It must have been a most difficult decision for you to make."

The smile reached his eyes. "It wasn't difficult at all ."

She didn't care for the arrogance in his tone or the way he was looking at her now. "I'm certain it was difficult for you," she insisted. "After all , my sisters are all very beautiful, and choosing one so quickly isn't really giving the matter your full consideration. For that reason, I would suggest you wait, perhaps return to our home in another month, after you've had time to mul this over. What think you of that idea, milord?"

He slowly shook his head.

"Then you're going to marry tomorrow?" Jamie asked.

"We'l be halfway home by then."

"You will ?"

"We will ."

"You plan to marry now?"

She looked horrified. Alec nodded. "I do."

"But you cannot mean—"

"We'l leave immediately after the ceremony," Alec said, his voice hard.

Lord Daniel suddenly appeared at her side. He was holding two goblets of wine. He handed one to Alec, then turned to the three sisters. "Come and join us, Mary," he called out, laughing. "We won't bite."

"I never thought you would," Mary announced. She straightened her shoulders and hurried over to stand beside Jamie.

Both Daniel and Alec drank from their goblets. They nodded to each other, then offered the cups to Jamie and Mary.

The sisters denied the offer by shaking their heads.

"Take a sip, Mary," Daniel suggested with a wink.

Alec wasn't as solicitous. "Drink this, Jamie. Now."

Perhaps it was some sort of primitive Scottish ritual, Jamie thought. As mistress of her home, she knew it was her duty to make their visitors welcome. Alec looked determined, too. She shrugged her shoulders, then took the goblet, swal owed quickly, and handed the cup back to him.

He captured her hand and wouldn't let go. His thumb brushed her palm. A frown settled on his face, and he slowly turned her hand over to look at the cal uses and scars.

Mary emptied Daniel's cup. When she gave the goblet back to him, he also took hold of her hand and turned it over.

Jamie tried to pul her hand away, but it wasn't until the two men had compared Mary's smooth, unblemished skin with Jamie's flaws, that he finally let go.

It was a humiliation. She understood every damning word they said to each other in Gaelic. They didn't know she spoke their language and that fact gave Jamie a perverse spark of satisfaction.

Jamie hid her hands behind her back and waited for their next insult.

"Was sharing your drink some sort of ritual?" Mary asked. " 'Tis the truth we don't know anything about the Scots."

After blurting out that statement, she turned her attention to the floor.

"Mary, you've never heard of our special preferences, then?" Daniel asked in a soft burr.

Mary's head jerked up. She had the most startled expression on her face. "Preferences, milord?"

"Certain peculiarities," Daniel qualified with a grin.

"Peculiarities?" Mary gave Jamie a wild look before turning back to Daniel. "Nay, I've not heard of these preferences."

"Ah, then, I must enlighten you," he announced.

It was obvious that Lord Daniel was vastly amused. "I don't wish to be enlightened," Mary countered.

Alec was watching Jamie. Her eyes had widened when Daniel mentioned preferences. She'd obviously caught the drift of his friend's remarks.

Alec found Jamie incredibly appealing. Just looking at her made him ache to touch her, to take her. The smile faded from his eyes when he admitted to himself how much he wanted to bed her. Odd, but it didn't matter that she was English. No, it didn't matter at all .

"Mary, sweet," Daniel began, drawing Alec's attention back to him, "surely you've heard of our list of wants. Everyone knows the Scots like strong horses, fat sheep, and soft, will ing women."

He'd drew out his list just like an old woman savoring the tel ing of fresh gossip. Alec mimicked his friend's tone when he added, "In that order, of course."

"Of course," Daniel agreed.

Jamie turned to glare at Alec. She'd already surmised Beak had had a little talk with the giants and had mentioned Mary's fears. Jamie made a promise to blister Beak's ears the next time she saw him.

Daniel suddenly reached out to stroke Mary's cheek with the back of his hand. Mary was so surprised by the caress she forgot to move away. She was quite mesmerized by the tender look in Daniel's eyes.

"I've already got a strong horse," Daniel stated. "As for sheep, Mary, well , there are plenty grazing in the mountains back home. But a soft, will ing woman, now, lass, it's a pity to admit I'm lacking one of those.

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