Iain smiled. "Your aunt and uncle will be welcomed here."
She smiled back. "Thank you."
"You've still got to answer me, Judith," Father Laggan reminded her.
"Is he going to agree to love and cherish me?" she asked.
"For the love of God, he just did," Brodick impatiently called out.
"Iain, if I stay here, I'm bound to try to make some changes."
"Now, Judith, we like things just the way they are around here," Graham told her.
"I don't like things around here," Judith said. "Iain, before we start, I want one more promise," she blurted out.
"Before we start? We're in the middle—" the priest tried to explain.
"What promise is this?" Graham asked. "The council might have need to mull it over."
"You will not mull it over," she countered. "This is a private matter. Iain?"
Oh Lord, how she loved his smile. She let out a little sigh while she motioned him closer so she could whisper in his ear. Graham had to back up a space to give her room. As soon as Iain leaned down, everyone else leaned forward to listen.
They were still left guessing. Whatever she had requested of their laird had clearly surprised him, if the look on his face was any indication.
The notice naturally pricked everyone's attention.
"This is important to you?"
"All right," he answered. "I promise."
Judith didn't realize she'd been holding her breath until he gave her his promise. She let out a loud sigh.
Her eyes filled with tears. She was so pleased with this man. He hadn't laughed or taken insult. He didn't even make her explain. He simply asked her if it was impor tant, and when she'd told him it was, he immediately agreed.
"Did you happen to get any of that, Graham?" Alex asked in a loud whisper everyone heard.
"Something about a drink," Graham whispered back.
"She's wanting a drink?" Gelfrid bellowed.
"Nay, I caught the word drunk," Owen announced.
"Why's she wanting to get drunk?" Vincent wanted to know.
Judith tried not to laugh. She turned her attention back to Father Laggan. "I will say I do," she told him. "Shouldn't we begin now?"
"The lass has trouble following along," Vincent remarked.
Father Laggan gave the final blessing while Judith argued with the elder about his rude comment. Her concentration was just fine, she told him quite vehemently.
She nagged an apology out of Vincent before giving the priest her attention again. "Patrick, would you go and get Frances Catherine? I would like her to stand by my side during the ceremony."
"You may kiss the bride," Father Laggan announced.
Frances Catherine was pacing back and forth inside the cottage when Judith finally opened the door and walked inside.
"Thank God you're here. I've been so worried. Judith, what took so long? Tell me what happened. Are you all right? You look so pale. They upset you, didn't they?" She paused to let out an outraged gasp. "They didn't dare try to order you to go back to England, did they?"
Judith sat down at the table. "They left," she whispered.
"Everyone. They just… left. Even Iain. He kissed me first. Then he left, too. I don't know where everyone went."
Frances Catherine had never seen her friend like this. Judith appeared to be in a daze. "You're frightening me, Judith. Please tell me what happened."
"I got married."
Frances Catherine had to sit down. "You got married?"
Judith nodded. She continued to stare off into space, her mind centered on the bizarre wedding ceremony.
Frances Catherine was too astonished to speak for several minutes. She sat across from Judith at the table and simply stared at her.
"Did you marry Iain?"
"I think so.'"
"What do you mean, you think so?"
"Graham was standing between us. I might have married him. No, I'm certain it was Iain. He kissed me after… Graham didn't."
Frances Catherine didn't know what to make of this news. She was thrilled, of course, because her friend would never have to go back to England, but she was also furious. Her mind concentrated on that emotion first.
"Why was it rushed? There weren't any flowers, were there? You couldn't have been married in a chapel. We don't have one. Damn it, Judith, you should have insisted Iain do it right."
"I don't know why it was so rushed," Judith admitted. "But Iain surely had his reasons. Please don't get upset about this."
"I should have been there," Frances Catherine wailed.
"Aye, you should have," Judith agreed.
Another minute passed in silence before Frances Catherine spoke again. "Are we happy about this marriage?"
Judith lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I suppose we are."
Tears filled Frances Catherine's eyes. "You deserved to have your dream come true."
Judith knew what her friend was talking about, of course. She shook her head and tried to comfort Frances Catherine. "Dreams are for little girls to whisper to each other. They don't really come true. I'm a fully grown woman now, Frances Catherine. I don't imagine impossible things."
Her friend wasn't ready to let it go. "You're forgetting who you're talking to, Judith. I know you better than anyone else in this whole world. I know all about your horrible life with your witch of a mother and your drunken uncle. I know about the pain and the loneliness. Your dreams became your shields against the hurt. You can tell me it was just your active imagination, these dreams you now pretend aren't still important, but I know better."
Her voice cracked on a sob. She took a deep breath and then continued on. "Your dreams saved you from despair. Don't you dare pretend they don't matter. I won't believe you."
"Frances Catherine, please be reasonable about this," Judith said in exasperation. "It wasn't always horrible. Millicent and Herbert balanced my life. Besides, I was very young when I thought up such silly dreams. I was only imagining what I wanted my wedding to be like. My father was there, remember? I thought the man was dead, but I still imagined him standing by my side at the back of the chapel. My husband was going to be so happy, he was going to cry. Now I ask you. Can you imagine Iain weeping over the sight of me?"
Frances Catherine couldn't help but smile. "My husband was also going to weep with gratitude. Patrick didn't. He gloated."
"I won't ever have to see my mother again."
She'd whispered that thought aloud. Frances Catherine nodded. "You won't ever have to leave me, either."
"I want you to be happy about this."
"All right. I'm happy. Now tell me exactly what happened. I want every detail."
Judith did as she was asked. By the time she was finished with the recounting, Frances Catherine was laughing. Judith was having difficulty remembering, and she kept excusing her poor memory on the fact that it had all been terribly confusing.
"I asked Iain if he loved me," she told her friend. "He didn't give me an answer. I didn't realize that until it was over and he was kissing me. He said he wanted me. I also tried to tell him about my father, but he wouldn't let me get the words out. He said it didn't matter. I was to let it alone. Those were his very words. I did try, but I'm thinking I should have tried harder."
Frances Catherine let out an unladylike snort. "Don't you start worrying about your father. We aren't ever going to mention him again. No one's going to know."
Judith nodded. "I made Iain promise me two things. Millicent and Herbert can come here for a visit."
"And the other promise?"
"Iain won't get drunk in my presence."
Frances Catherine's eyes filled with tears. She never would have thought to ask her husband such a thing, but she fully understood why Judith would be so concerned. "For as long as I've lived here, I've never seen Iain drunk."
"He'll keep his promise," Judith whispered. She let out a sigh. "I wonder where I'll sleep tonight."
"Iain will come here to get you."
"What have I gotten myself into?"
"You love him."
"He must love you."
"I hope he does," Judith said. "He didn't have anything else to gain. He must love me."
"Are you worried about tonight?"
"A little. Were you worried the first time?"
For some reason, both women found that admission hysterically funny. Patrick and Iain walked inside, both smiling over the way Frances Catherine and Judith were laughing.
Patrick wanted to know what they found so amusing. His question only made the two women laugh all the more. He finally gave up. Women, he decided, didn't make much sense.
Iain's gaze was centered on Judith. "Why are you here?" he asked.
"I wanted to tell Frances Catherine what happened. We did get married, didn't we?"
"She thinks she might have married Graham," Frances Catherine told Patrick.
Iain shook his head. He went over to his bride and pulled her to her feet. She hadn't looked at him once since he'd entered the cottage, and that notice bothered him. "It's time to go home."
Judith was filled with trepidation. "I'll just get a few of my things," she said. She kept her head bowed and started toward the back of the screen. "Where is home?" she asked.
"Where you were married," Patrick told her.
It was safe for her to grimace. No one could see her. Then she let out a sigh. She was going to have to live in the ugly keep, she supposed, but it wasn't going to bother her. Iain lived there and that was all that mattered.
Judith could hear the two brothers talking together while she gathered her sleeping gown and wrapper and other necessary items for tonight. She would collect the rest of her things tomorrow.
She had difficulty folding her nightgown and was surprised to notice her hands shook.
She finished packing the small valise but didn't leave her little sanctuary. The significance of what had taken place today was finally settling in her mind.
She sat down on the side of the bed and closed her eyes. She was a married woman. Her heart was suddenly pounding a furious beat and she could barely catch a decent breath. She knew she was beginning to panic and tried to calm herself.
Dear God, what if she had made a mistake? It had all happened so fast. Iain did love her, didn't he? It didn't matter that he hadn't given her the words. He wanted to marry her and he had absolutely nothing to gain other than a wife. What other motive could there be?
What if she couldn't fit in with these people? What if they never accepted her? Judith finally focused on her main concern. What if she couldn't be a good wife? She sure as certain didn't know how to please a man in bed. Iain would know she was inexperienced. It would be his duty to teach her, but what if she was the kind of woman who couldn't be taught?
She didn't want him to think of her as inferior. She would rather die.
His voice was little more than a whisper. She still flinched. He noticed. He noticed his bride looked ready to faint, too. Judith was afraid. He thought he understood why.
"I'm ready to leave now," she told him in a voice that shivered.
She didn't move after making that announcement. Her valise was on her lap and she appeared to have a death grip on the handle. Iain hid his smile. He walked over to the bed and sat down next to her.
"Why are you sitting here?" he asked,
"I was just thinking."
She didn't answer him. She wouldn't look at him, but kept her gaze locked on her lap.
Iain wasn't going to rush her. He decided to act as though there was all the time in the world. They sat side by side for several minutes. Judith could hear Frances Catherine whispering to her husband. She heard the word "flowers" and thought her friend might be complaining about the lack of decorations at the wedding.
"Is it possible for me to have a bath tonight?"
She nodded. "Shouldn't we leave?"
"You're finished thinking?"
"Yes, thank you."
He stood up. So did she. She handed him her valise. He took hold of her hand and started for the doorway.
Frances Catherine blocked their exit. She was determined to make them stay for supper. Since everything was ready, Iain agreed. Judith was far too nervous to eat. Iain didn't have any trouble. Both he and Patrick ate like men who'd just completed the forty-day Lenten fast.
He didn't want to linger after the meal, however. Neither did Judith. They walked hand in hand up to the keep. It was dark inside. Iain led her up to the second level. His bedchamber was on the left side of the landing, the first of three doors along the narrow corridor.
The bedroom blazed with light and warmth. The hearth faced the door. A fire burned bright, effectively heating the area. Iain's bed was to the left of the doorway. It took up a fair portion of the wall. A quilt, made of the colors of his clan, covered the bed, and a small chest with two candles on top was next to the wall.
There was only one chair in the room, near the hearth. Another chest, much larger and taller than the one by the bed, was on the opposite wall. An ornate, gold-rimmed square box sat on top of the chest.
Iain wasn't much for clutter, she decided. The room was functional, efficient, and very like the man who slept here.
There was a large wooden tub directly in front of the fireplace. Steam filtered up from the water. Iain had thoughtfully anticipated her request for a bath even before she'd asked him.
He tossed her valise on the bed. "Is there anything else you need?"
She needed not to be afraid, but she didn't tell him that. "No, thank you."
She continued to stand in the center of the room, her hands folded together, waiting and praying he would leave so she could have her bath in privacy.
He wondered why she was hesitating to get the chore done. "Do you need help getting undressed?" he asked.
"No," she blurted out, appalled by the very idea. "I remember how," she added in a calmer voice.
He nodded, then motioned with the crook of his finger for her to come to him. She didn't hesitate. She stopped when she was just a foot away.