Iain was already shaking his head before Maclean had finished his plea. "My wife stays with me."
"Will you allow her to come here every now and again?"
"Only Judith can make that decision," Iain countered.
"I wouldn't force her."
"But you won't prevent her?"
"No," Iain conceded. "If she wishes to see you again, I'll bring her to you."
"Iain Maitland, you're making promises without authority," Graham announced in a near shout. "The council will decide any alliances, not you."
Iain turned around to look at Graham. "We will discuss this later," he commanded.
"You should be thankful my daughter spoke up when she did," Maclean bellowed. He stood up, braced his hands on the tabletop, and leaned forward. "She saved your sorry hide, Graham. I've been itching to tear you apart for a good number of years. I still might, if I hear you aren't treating Judith proper."
He paused to glare at his enemy. "Oh, I saw the expression on your face when you heard she was a Maclean. It didn't sit well, did it? It must chafe you considerably to know your laird's married to my daughter. No matter," Maclean continued in a roar. "You hurt Judith, and by God, I'll kill you with my bare hands."
"Father, what if Judith wants to stay here with us?" Douglas asked. "She may not want to go home with Iain. You should put the question to her."
Iain wasn't impressed with Douglas's burst of brotherly concern. "She goes with me."
Douglas didn't want to give up. "Will you let him take her if she doesn't want to go?"
"Let him?" Maclean found his first smile. "It appears Iain's going to do whatever he damned well wants to do." He turned his attention Iain. "You might have started out with a clever plan in mind, but you fell in love with her somewhere along the way, didn't you?"
Iain refused to answer him. Douglas wouldn't let it go. "Do you love Judith?"
Iain let out a sigh. Judith's brother was turning out to be one hell of a nuisance. "Do you honestly believe I would marry a Maclean if I didn't love her?"
Laird Maclean let out a snort of laughter. "Welcome to the family, son."
Iain found Judith leaning against a tree on the side of the trail a fair distance away from the keep. The moonlight was bright enough for him to see how pale she was.
"Judith, it's time to go home."
"Yes, of course."
She didn't move. He walked closer. When she looked up at him, he realized she'd been crying. "Are you all right?" he asked, concern obvious in his voice. "I know it was difficult for you."
Fresh tears filled her eyes. "Was he lying to me or was he telling me the truth? There have been so many lies in the past, I can't seem to find the truth anymore. It really doesn't matter, though, does it? Knowing that my father would have claimed me can't make up for the lost years."
"I think it matters to you," Iain countered. "And I believe he was telling the truth. If he'd known, he would have gone to England to get you."
She pulled away from the tree and straightened her shoulders. "I know you must be furious with me. I should have told you who my father was."
She interrupted him. "I was afraid you wouldn't want me if you knew the truth." It finally dawned on her that Iain wasn't angry. "Why aren't you upset? The news must have staggered you. And why did you lie to my father?"
"When did I lie?"
"When you told him you knew I was his daughter."
"I didn't lie. I knew before I married you."
"You couldn't have known," she cried out.
"We'll talk about this later," he announced. "After we get home."
She shook her head. She wanted to talk about it now. She felt as though her entire world had just been destroyed. "If you knew… why did you marry me?"
He reached for her. She backed away. "Judith, I'm not going to talk about this now."
God, he sounded so calm, so bloody reasonable. "You used me."
"I protected you."
"You wanted the alliance. That's the only reason you married me. I thought, oh God, I thought because you didn't have anything to gain, that you must really just want me, that you—" Her voice broke on a sob. She was so sickened by the truth, she almost doubled over. She took another step back. Her own naivety made her even more furious with herself. "I've been such a fool," she cried out. "I really thought I could belong here. I believed I would be accepted and it wouldn't matter who my mother was or who my father—"
She took a deep breath to try to control herself. "I have no one to blame but myself for thinking such foolish thoughts. I can never be accepted here. I won't go home with you, Iain. Not now. Not ever."
"You won't raise your voice to me," he ordered in a chillingly soft voice. "But you will go home with me. Now."
He moved like lightning. She didn't even have time to ran. He had both of her hands locked in one of his and was dragging her back down the path before she'd even started to struggle.
Judith quit trying to get away from him when she remembered Frances Catherine. Her friend needed her.
Iain stopped at the edge of the clearing. "Don't you dare weep," he commanded.
"You've broken my heart."
"I'll fix it later."
She almost burst into tears then and there. The crowd of soldiers gathered together in the yard changed her mind. She straightened her shoulders and rushed forward to walk by her husband's side, determined not to disgrace herself in front of the Macleans.
Graham and Patrick had already mounted their horses and were waiting to leave. Iain wouldn't let Judith ride her own horse. He handed the reins of her mount to his brother, then turned and lifted her onto his stallion's back. He swung up behind her, settled her on his lap, and took over the lead.
They passed Graham first. As soon as her gaze met his, he turned away from her. She quickly turned her gaze to her lap. She folded her hands together and desperately tried not to let any of her feelings show on her face. She didn't want any of them to know how much she was hurting inside.
Iain noticed the insult Graham had given his wife. He became so furious, he could barely control himself. Judith had become rigid in his arms. He pulled her closer against his chest and leaned down to whisper into her ear.
"You and I belong to each other, Judith. Nothing else matters. Remember that."
He didn't realize until he'd spoken the words aloud how significant they were. The tightness inside his chest eased away. Loving Judith made him feel he could conquer the world. There wasn't any problem they couldn't face as long as they were together. He remembered how she had told him she wanted to be able to share her worries with him. He wouldn't let her. And he was supposed to share his worries with her as well. Lord, he'd scoffed at the idea, arrogantly believing that he, and he alone, should make every decision, solve every problem, give every command. It was her duty to tell him what was wrong, and he would take care of it.
He couldn't imagine why she loved him. It was a miracle, that. He sure as hell didn't feel worthy. He almost smiled, for worthy or not, her heart belonged to him… and he would never let her go. Never.
It was as though he'd spoken the thought aloud, because Judith suddenly looked up at him. "I won't live with a man who doesn't love me," she whispered.
She expected anger, and secretly hoped for a little remorse. She didn't get either. "All right," he agreed.
She twisted away from him. Iain knew she wasn't in any condition to listen to anything he had to say. Tomorrow would be soon enough for explanations.
"Close your eyes and rest," he ordered. "You're exhausted."
She was about to do just that when she saw a movement in the darkness. She stiffened against him and grabbed hold of his arm. The trees around them seemed to come to life before her eyes. Shadows moved forward into the moonlight.
They were Maitland warriors, and so many in number, she couldn't even begin to count. They were dressed in battle attire. Ramsey led the warriors. He moved forward and waited for Iain to tell him what had happened.
Iain hadn't come alone after all. His men had obviously been waiting for his command to go into battle. Judith was thankful now she had been able to prevent a war, and wondered how many lives would have been lost if she had remained silent.
She didn't speak to her husband again until they were home. She told him she didn't want to share his bed. He picked her up and carried her there. She was too tired to fight him. She fell asleep before he had taken her clothes off her.
He couldn't leave her alone. He held her in his arms, stroking her, nuzzling her, kissing her, and in the early predawn hours he made love to her.
She was too sleepy to protest at first, and then too consumed by his passion to make him stop. His mouth was so wonderfully hot against her own. His hands stroked her inner thighs, gently forcing them apart. His fingers thrust inside her wet heat just as his tongue invaded her mouth. The erotic love play made her whimper with pleasure. She moved restlessly against him. It was all the permission he needed. He moved between her thighs and drove deep into her. She arched up against him and wrapped her arms around his neck to bring him closer. His thrusts were slow, measured, deliberate. The sweet torment drove her wild. She tightened her legs around him and lifted her h*ps more forcefully to make him quicken his pace.
They found fulfillment together. He growled deep in his throat and collapsed against her. She held him tight while the waves of ecstasy swept over her, and then wept against his shoulder.
Once she started crying, she couldn't seem to stop. He rolled to his side, taking her with him, and whispered soothing words until she finally relaxed against him and he knew she'd fallen asleep again. He closed his eyes, his own surrender complete, and did the same.
The following morning Iain left the chamber a good hour before Judith awakened. The housekeeper came up the stairs to fetch her, knocked softly on the door and called her name.
Judith had just finished getting dressed. She wore her pale pink gown. At her bidding, Helen came rushing into the chamber. She took one look at Judith's clothing and came to an abrupt stop. "You're not wearing our plaid," she blurted out.
"No," Judith answered without giving further explanation. "What is it you wanted to speak to me about?"
"Yes?" Judith asked when Helen didn't go on.
"They're waiting in the hall to speak to you. Is it true, then? Is your father…"
Helen couldn't seem to get the name out. Judith took mercy on her. "Laird Maclean is my father."
"Don't go downstairs," Helen cried out. She started wringing her hands together in agitation. "You look terribly pale to me. Get back into bed. I'll tell them you're ill."
Judith shook her head. "I can't hide up here," she said. She started toward the door, then paused. "Isn't the council breaking one of their sacred rules by speaking directly to me in an official capacity?"
Helen nodded. "They're probably too angry to think about their rules now. Besides, they did allow one other woman to stand before them. Your Frances Catherine. It was the talk around here for weeks on end."
Judith smiled. "Frances Catherine told me they tried to make her change her mind about sending for me. They probably want to wring her neck now. Look at all the trouble I've caused."
Helen shook her head. "You haven't caused any trouble."
Judith patted her arm. "Is my husband waiting for me with the elders?"
Helen shook her head again. It was an effort for her to get her emotions under control. Her voice trembled when she answered her mistress. "He's on his way back from his brother's home. Graham sent a messenger down the hill to get him. They won't send you away, will they?"
"My father's their enemy," Judith reminded the woman. "I can't imagine they would want me to stay here."
"But your husband's our laird," Helen whispered. "Surely…"
Judith didn't want to talk about Iain, Helen was getting terribly upset. Tears were spilling down her cheeks. Judith was sorry she was the cause of her distress, but she didn't know how to ease her suffering. She couldn't tell Helen everything was going to be all right, for that would be a ridiculous lie.
"I'll survive this," she said. "And so shall you." She forced a smile, pinched her cheeks to give them some color, and then walked out of the chamber.
Iain walked inside just as she started down the stairs. He looked relieved to see her. She didn't know what to make of that.
"I would like to speak to you, Iain," she called out. "I have something I want to say to you."
"Not now, Judith," he told her. "There isn't time."
"I want you to make time," she insisted,
"Frances Catherine needs you, wife."
Her entire demeanor changed. She ran the rest of the way down the stairs. "Is it the baby?"
Iain nodded. "Helen?" Judith called out.
"I heard, milady. I'll just gather a few things and follow you down."
Judith had taken hold of Iain's hand. She realized what she'd done and tried to let go. He wouldn't let her. He turned and opened the door for her, then pulled her outside.
The elders were all standing in a group in front of the table by the hearth. Iain acted as though they weren't even there.
"How long has she been having pains?" Judith asked.
"Patrick didn't say. He's so rattled, he can barely speak a coherent word."
Iain hadn't exaggerated. Frances Catherine's husband was standing in the center of the doorway. "She wants me to fetch the priest," he blurted out as soon as they came into view. "Dear God, this is all my fault."
Judith didn't know what to say to that. Iain shook his head. "Get hold of yourself, Patrick," he ordered. "You won't do her any good at all if you fall apart."
"It's all my fault, I tell you," Patrick repeated in an anguished whisper.
"Hell," Iain muttered. "Of course it's your fault. You took her to your bed—"
"It isn't that," Patrick interrupted.