"No." Judith screamed as she took a step forward.
Iain grabbed hold of her hand and forced her to go no farther.
She turned to look up at him. "I have to talk to him," she whispered. "Please understand."
He let go of her. She removed the chain from around her neck and tucked the ring in her fist. Then she walked forward to confront her father.
The hall grew silent as everyone waited to hear what she was going to say.
"You did capture Iain's wife," she began.
Maclean snorted. Judith opened her hand and let the ring drop onto the table in front of him.
Maclean simply stared at the piece of jewelry a long, long while before finally picking it up. His surprise was most evident. He turned his gaze to hers, frowning, still not understanding.
Judith took a deep breath. "Aye, you captured Iain's wife," she said again. "But he married your daughter."
Her father reacted as though a blade had just been thrust deep into his chest. He lunged forward and upward, until he was half out of his chair, then fell back against the cushions. He looked furious and disbelieving. He shook his head in denial. She slowly nodded.
"How did you get this ring?"
"From my mother. She stole it from you."
"Give me your mother's name," he commanded in a voice thick with emotion.
There wasn't a hint of emotion in Judith's voice when she answered him.
Douglas rushed forward to stand on Judith's right. Their father looked from one to the other and then back again. The similarities were startlingly evident to him now. He finally believed it was possible. "Dear God…"
"Father, have you taken ill?"
The laird didn't answer his son. Iain walked forward to stand on Judith's left side. His arm brushed hers. She didn't know if he was looking at her or not. She was afraid to look at him, knowing he would be furious with her by now.
"What in God's name is the matter with you, Father?" Douglas asked. "You look as though you've just seen the Devil."
It was apparent Douglas hadn't heard her whispered confession. Since Iain continued to remain silent, she believed he hadn't heard, either.
Judith was determined to strike a bargain with her father. In exchange for her silence about his first wife, he would let Iain and the others go home. If he wanted to marry again, so be it. She wouldn't interfere…
"Why didn't you want me?"
She flinched inside. She hadn't meant to ask him that question. What did she care if he wanted her or not? And Lord, she'd sounded like a lost little girl.
"I didn't know," he answered. He threaded his fingers through his hair in agitation. "I vowed never to return to England. She knew I wouldn't break my pledge. After she died, I never gave her another thought. I put the past. behind me."
Judith moved forward until she was touching the table. She leaned even closer then and whispered. "She isn't dead."
"If you want to marry again, I won't tell Father Laggan you already have a wife. I won't care," she added with a nod. "But you must let the Maitlands go."
She didn't wait for his promise, but backed up until she'd put some distance between them.
Laird Maclean didn't think he could take any more surprises. He was still staggered by the truths he'd just been handed.
"Father, what is going on?"
The laird tried to shake himself out of his stupor. He turned to look at his son. "You have a sister," he said, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"She's standing right beside you."
Douglas turned to stare at Judith. She stared back.
It took her brother a long while to accept. He didn't look very happy with the news. In truth, he looked appalled. "I don't want you in my bed," he stammered out. He was actually able to smile a little then. "No wonder you were so repelled when I tried to—"
He didn't continue, for he'd only just noticed Iain was watching him. Iain's voice was deadly soft when he asked, "Exactly what did you try to do, Douglas?"
Her brother lost his smile. "I didn't know she was your wife, Maitland," he excused. "And I sure as certain didn't know she was my sister when I tried to kiss her."
Iain didn't care what excuses were given. He reached behind Judith's shoulders, grabbed Douglas by the nape of his neck, and sent him flying backward with a flick of his wrist.
Judith's father didn't show any reaction to his son sprawled out on the floor in front of him. His attention remained on his daughter. "I'm pleased you don't look like her."
She didn't respond to that comment.
Her father let out a long sigh. "Did she turn your heart against me, then?" he asked.
Judith was surprised by the question. She shook her head. "I was told my father died defending England from infidels. He was supposed to have been a baron."
"So you lived with her all the while you were growing up?"
"No," she answered. "The first four years I lived with Aunt Millicent and Uncle Herbert. Millicent's my mother's sister," she added.
"Why didn't you live with your mother?"
"She couldn't stand the sight of me. For a long time I believed it was because I reminded her of the man she loved. When I was eleven years old, I found out the truth. She hated me because I was part of you."
"And when you found out the truth?"
"I was told you banished my mother, that you knew she was carrying me, and you didn't want either one of us."
"Lies," he whispered with a shake of his head. "I never knew about you. As God is my witness, I never knew."
She didn't show any outward reaction to his fervent speech. "If you'll only let us go home," she said again. "I won't tell the priest you already have a wife."
Her father shook his head. "Nay, I won't be getting wed again. I'm too old to wave such a sin in God's face. I'm content to let things stay the way they are."
He turned his attention to Iain then. "Did you know I was Judith's father when you married her?"
Judith let out a little gasp. She was quick to recover from her surprise. Iain was obviously lying to the laird and she would find out his reasons later, when they were alone. If he ever spoke to her again, she qualified. She still couldn't make herself look up at him. She wanted to weep with shame because she hadn't trusted him enough to tell him the truth.
"Then why did you seek an alliance with the Dunbars?" Maclean asked. "Or did the bastard lie to me?"
"The Dunbars approached us first," Iain explained. "I met their laird on neutral ground to discuss the possibility of an alliance, but that was before I knew my wife was your daughter."
"And when you were certain?"
Iain shrugged. "By then I knew what the Dunbars' game was. They couldn't be trusted. And so I sent my envoy, Ramsey, to you."
"Did you marry my daughter because I was her father?"
The laird nodded, satisfied with Iain's honesty. "Do you treat her well?"
Iain didn't answer. Judith thought she was probably supposed to. "He treats me very well. I wouldn't stay with him if he didn't."
Her father smiled. "You've got spirit. That pleases me."
She didn't thank him for his compliment. Not five minutes before, he'd told her her boldness displeased him. He was contradicting himself, and none of his compliments were ever going to ease her pain.
She noticed her father's eyes were getting misty. She couldn't imagine why.
"When did you find out about me?" Douglas asked. "Have you known since you were eleven that you had an older brother?"
Judith's composure almost snapped then and there. Her mother's treachery suddenly overwhelmed her. "I didn't know about you… until today," she whispered. "She never told anyone."
Douglas shrugged, trying to act as though he really didn't care, but Judith could see his vulnerability. She touched his arm in a bid to comfort him. "Be thankful, Douglas, that she did leave you here. You were more fortunate."
Douglas was moved by her apparent concern for his feelings. He cleared his throat in a bid to ease the sudden tightness there, then said, "I would have watched out for you the way older brothers should. I would have, Judith."
She nodded and was about to tell her brother she believed he would have protected her, but her father turned her attention.
"I want you to stay here with me and Douglas for a time."
"No." Iain snapped out that denial. "Judith, go outside and wait for me. I have something to discuss with your father."
She didn't hesitate. She turned around and started to walk away. Laird Maclean watched her for a moment, then hastily stood up. His gaze was directed on her back.
"I would never break my promise to go back to England," he called out. "I certainly wouldn't have gone back for my wife," he added in a louder voice.
Judith continued to walk away from her father. She was trembling so much now, she was worried her legs would give out on her. If she could just get outside…
"I wouldn't go back for land, or title, or all the gold England had to give."
She was halfway across the way when he bellowed, "Judith Maitland!"
She stopped and slowly turned around. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She was oblivious to them. Her hands were gripped tightly together so no one would see how they shook.
"I would have broken my promise for a daughter," her father shouted. "Oh, yes, I would have gone back into England for you."
She took a deep breath, then slowly nodded. She desperately wanted to believe him, but knew she needed time, and distance, to separate all the lies from the truth.
Graham stood near the bottom of the steps leading up to the entrance. Two guards stood as sentries behind him. Her gaze met the elder's. The look on Graham's face took her breath away, his fury and his disdain for her so visible, she felt as though he'd just spat on her.
She was certain she was going to be sick. She ran outside, crossed the courtyard and continued on toward the privacy of the trees. She kept running until she was out of breath. Then she collapsed on the ground and broke into heart-wrenching sobs.
Judith was so confused inside. Had her father told her the truth? If he had known about her, would he have claimed her? Would he have been able to love her?
Oh God, the lost years, the lies, the loneliness. And now it was too late. She had told who she was, and
Graham had let her know, with just one hateful look, that she had lost everything. She was an outsider again.
"Iain," she sobbed.
Had she lost him, too?
Iain knew Judith needed him now. He believed he'd hurt her with his admission he'd married her because she was a Maclean. He wanted to go to her, of course, but his initial concern was dealing with her father. In his mind, Judith's safety came before her feelings.
"You used my daughter to get to me, didn't you?" Laird Maclean remarked. He tried to sound furious, but failed in his attempt. He let out a sigh. " 'Tis the truth I probably would have done the same if I'd been in your position."
Iain's discipline vanished. He reached across the table, grabbed Judith's father by his shoulders and lifted him half out of his chair. Douglas ran forward to intervene on his father's behalf. Iain sent him flying backward again with the back of his fist.
"I married Judith to protect her from you, you bastard," he roared. He shoved Maclean back into his chair. "Now you and I are going to come to some sort of understanding, or I swear to God, I'll kill you."
The Maclean laird raised his hand to stop his men from attacking Iain. "Everyone out," he commanded in a bellow. "This matter is between the Maitland laird and me. Douglas, you may stay."
"Patrick stays, too," Iain ordered.
"I'm not leaving," Graham shouted.
"As you wish," Laird Maclean agreed, his tone weary now. He waited until his soldiers had taken their leave, then stood up to face Iain. "Why did you believe you needed to protect her from me? I'm her father."
"You know damned good and well why," Iain replied. "You would have married her to one of the Dunbars. I couldn't allow that."
Laird Maclean didn't argue over that possibility for he knew it to be true. He probably would have married her to one of the Dunbars in order to make the alliance more binding. "I would have gained her permission first," he muttered. He leaned back in his chair. "Dear God, this is difficult to take in. I have a daughter."
"And a wife," Iain reminded him.
Maclean's face darkened. "Yes, a wife," he agreed. "The woman left me," he explained. "Oh, it was under the guise of returning to England to see her ailing brother, but I knew she didn't have any intention of ever coming back. I was happy to be rid of her. I felt like celebrating when I heard she'd died. If that be a sin, so be it. I've never known a woman like her," he added. "Not before, not after. She didn't have a conscience. She lived for self-pleasure, nothing more. She was so cruel to her son, I spent most of my days protecting the boy from his own mother."
"Judith didn't have anyone to protect her."
"I realize that," Maclean replied. He suddenly looked like a very old man. "She said she lived with the aunt the first four years. What happened then? Did she live with her mother?"
"What about my wife's brother? The drunk?" Maclean asked.
"He lived with them, to. The aunt and uncle tried to look out for Judith. She lived with them six months of each year, and lived in Hell the other months."
"A peculiar arrangement," Maclean said. He shook his head. "I can never make it up to her. I can never—" His voice broke. He pretended to cough, then said, "You'll have your alliance, Iain, if you're still wanting it. The Dunbars will rebel, of course, but we can keep them under control and behaving themselves, locked between us as they are. I have only one request to make."
"What is it?"
"I want Judith to stay here for a spell. I would like to get to know her."