"You put a stop to it, didn't you?" Connor asked.
"Of course. Just as soon as I found out what she was doing, I told her she had to wait and get permission from you. I would mention one other matter. I threatened to lock her in her chamber."
"Because of the chapel," Connor said with a nod.
"Actually, no, it was another matter that caused me to use such a threat."
"How did our mistress react to your warning?" Crispin asked.
"She knew I was bluffing. She misses our laird, by the way, so much so, she is easily startled. The least little sound makes her jump. She isn't eating much either. I was so concerned, I took her to Lady Kincaid. She assured me Lady Brenna was all right. She must have been correct because as soon as Sinclair arrived, she went to confession and seems much happier now. I told her word had reached us that you would be home by nightfall, and she was extremely pleased with the news."
"Did Jamie remove her stitches for her?"
"No, your wife took care of it on her own."
Connor nodded before changing the subject. "I noticed you put Ewan back on the wall. He was happy to alternate the duty with another so that he could work on his fighting skills," he reminded Quinlan.
"I had good reason."
"And that was?"
"I trusted Ewan not to be swayed by your wife. She wanted to go to the lake."
"But you didn't let her."
"No, I didn't."
"And she tried to go anyway?" Crispin asked. "Is that why you threatened to lock her away?"
Quinlan sighed. "No, that wasn't it."
"Then what…" Connor lost his train of thought as soon as he reached the top of the path and saw his courtyard.
There were deep holes everywhere. He was so stunned by the desecration of his land his temper ignited.
Unfortunately, the woman responsible was directly across the yard. His wife. The longer he stood there staring at her, the more his throat began to throb with the need to let out a roar. Thankfully, he was able to suppress it by clenching his jaw tight and staring up at the sky.
She didn't realize her husband was there, as her back was turned to him and she was a fair distance away. Two soldiers were leaning against the wall, watching her pace. They stood at attention the second they spotted their laird.
They looked relieved to see him. Connor fully understood why.
The muscle in his jaw was beginning to ache. God help him, the longer he looked at the holes in the ground, the more infuriated he became. She didn't move for a second or two, then whirled around. She had a dagger in her hand.
She didn't scream, but from the look on her face he knew she was about to. He was taken aback by the fear he saw in her eyes. Yet as soon as she realized he was watching her, she let out a cry of joy, dropped her dagger, and came running to him.
"I told you she was acting peculiar," Quinlan remarked. Connor nodded but kept silent as he watched his wife skirt her way around the obstacle course. He expected her to stop as soon as she reached him and was therefore surprised when she threw herself into his arms and kissed the side of his neck.
It was improper behavior, as others were watching them, yet Connor couldn't make himself care. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight against him, feeling very like a man whose wish had finally been granted.
"I'm so happy to have you home at last," she whispered against his ear.
He gave her a squeeze and then let go of her. She continued to hold on to him for several more seconds before she could make herself step back.
"I have much to tell you."
"It seems you do," he agreed. "You will explain everything this evening. Go and wash your face now. It's covered with my dirt."
Quinlan and Crispin both watched their laird with curiosity. Connor's voice sounded strained, yet calm.
He was keeping his anger hidden from his wife, and Quinlan thought that was admirable of him. Crispin knew better. His laird was simply saving his temper to take out on his weapon later when he trained with his soldiers.
"Where are you going now?" she asked.
"To the lake."
"I could go with you."
"No, you couldn't."
"Others will be there, Brenna."
"Could you please come with me inside for just a few minutes. I have a surprise for you in the great hall."
"Can't it wait?"
"I suppose it could."
He waited for her to leave. She waited for him to reconsider.
"I wonder how long you will be busy."
He wondered how long he could hide his temper from her. "Until tonight."
"Connor, are you happy to see me?"
His frown suggested just the opposite. She bowed to him before she started back across the courtyard.
"If it's dark when you come back, be careful. The ground is full of holes."
"I noticed," he called back.
All three maintained their silence until Lady Brenna had turned the corner on her way to the kitchens.
"She remembered to pick up her dagger," Crispin remarked.
"She never forgets her knife and is constantly checking to make certain she has it with her. She still forgets everything else, though. You're to be commended, Connor," he added. "You didn't lose your temper."
"This isn't amusing, Quinlan. There are over twenty deep holes in my courtyard. Have them filled at once."
After giving his order, he and Crispin returned to the stables to get fresh horses. Connor hoped he could get over his anger before he saw his wife again. He didn't want to upset her, which he thought was damned considerate given that the demented woman was trying to squeeze a chapel up against his keep.
"She wanted to please me. I must keep that in mind every time the word chapel is spoken in my presence."
"Laird?" Quinlan called out. "Could you spare a moment of your time to speak to Father Sinclair before he returns to the Kincaids?"
Connor motioned to the priest to join him. He spoke before Sinclair had a chance. "Do you know why my wife's afraid?"
"I cannot say."
"I was told she's been acting peculiar and that after she spoke to you, she was happy again. Did she confide in you?"
Once again the priest gave him an unsatisfactory answer. "I cannot say, Laird."
"Did she go to confession?"
"Did she tell you what was bothering her during confession?"
"If she did, I couldn't admit it because that would be breaking my solemn promise never to acknowledge anything said during confession."
Connor nodded acceptance and didn't try to press Sinclair again.
"What did you want to speak to me about?"
"I wanted to thank you for allowing me to stay here. I won't be a bother," he promised, "and really shouldn't be here all that often. It's my duty to serve a wide area."
"You should give your appreciation to my wife, Father. She is the one who pleaded for you."
"I have already thanked her. I will forever be in her debt. She wishes me to sleep in one of the chambers inside your home, and while I appreciate her thoughtfulness, I feel I should have my own accommodations in the event any of your followers should need to speak to me in private. Is this agreeable with you?"
"It is," Connor answered. "I'll have one of the vacant cottages cleaned and readied for you. When will you be joining us?"
"As soon as Laird Kincaid grants me permission to leave. I would also mention one other matter. I return to England in a few days to explain this change to my superior. I shouldn't be away more than a week."
"I will have soldiers escort you," Connor said.
"That isn't necessary, Laird; for as long as I wear the black cassock, no one would dare harm me, even those whose souls have already been promised to Satan."
"Wild animals won't show you such consideration."
"I will stay to the main path," the priest insisted.
"As you wish."
"Was there any news you wished to send back to England?"
Connor shook his head and waited until Sinclair had left before he continued on. His thoughts were on his wife, of course. She had been very kind to the priest and was certainly concerned about the man's pride and his feelings. One day soon, Connor hoped she would learn to show him the same consideration.
She could start by leaving his damned courtyard alone.
Lord, it was good to be home.
The surprises just kept on coming. Connor knew that somewhere in his wife's convoluted thoughts lurked an innocent plan to please him, yet how she ever could have imagined he would be happy to find a chapel sitting in his courtyard was beyond his ability to comprehend. He thought she might have another reason for doing such a monstrous thing, but if that was true, he would probably go to his grave still trying to figure out what it could be.
Only one truth comforted him now. It couldn't get any worse. No matter what other surprises she had ready for him, nothing could surpass the chapel.
He really should have known better.
He didn't go inside to speak to Euphemia, as he had planned, when he first arrived home, because he would have had to walk across the courtyard in order to get to her, which meant he would have to sidestep his way around the holes. Quinlan had assured him they were deep enough to cover a tall man's head, providing he was fortunate enough to fall in feet first. Getting that close to the destruction would definitely have sent his temper right over the edge. He could have gone in through the back door, of course.
He didn't, though, because he needed to get away until he calmed down. His plan was to avoid the courtyard until that evening, for surely the holes would be filled by then, and he would have had enough time to get over this god-awful surprise.
After he had washed away the filth he'd accumulated over the past two weeks, he rode to the northern section of the wall to look over the progress made in fortifying the wooden posts with stone. The discovery of one problem led to another and another, and he didn't return to the keep until late that afternoon.
The sun was setting by the time he reached the stables, and as soon as he went inside, he noticed two peculiar things. The first was the fact that the black's stall was empty; the second was that Davis appeared to be sneaking out the back door.
His command stopped him cold. "Where's the black, Davis?"
It wasn't a satisfactory answer. He ordered the stablemaster to come forward, and then asked, "Were you trying to run out the back door?"
"For what reason?"
"To get away from you before you noticed the black was missing."
"I see," Connor replied, his voice mild, controlled. "Exactly where is my stallion now?"
"He's getting a dose of fresh air."
"By whose order?"
Davis looked afraid to tell him. He took a hasty step back, quickly braced himself, and then said, "Your wife."
"She ordered you to take my horse out of the stall?" he asked, trying to understand what was going on and why Davis was acting so nervous.
"Well, now, she didn't exactly order me."
"Did she ask Quinlan or Crispin to take the stallion out?"
"No, she surely didn't ask either one of them. Fact is, she didn't ask me either."
Connor had to remind himself to be patient. "Help me understand, Davis, and stand still. You aren't going anywhere until I have all my questions answered. Is someone with my wife, or did she try to walk the horse on her own?"
"Quinlan's probably caught up with mi'lady by now. He usually does. I'm not understanding what you mean by walk, though. Could you explain it to me? I don't think anyone's doing any walking, least of all your black."
A sudden possibility made Connor's heart start pounding. "Is someone riding him?"
"Quinlan?" He resisted the urge to grab Davis by the scruff of his scrawny neck and shake the answers out of him. "Then who is riding him?"
Davis grimaced over the anger he heard in his laird's voice before answering. "Well, now, your wife might be. Then again, she might not."
He had had a feeling Davis was going to say that. If Davis hadn't already assured him that Quinlan was with her, Connor would have lost his control. As it was, he was holding on to it by threads.
What in God's name could Quinlan be thinking to let Brenna take such a risk? The high-strung stallion was difficult for most men to handle, and Connor couldn't even picture his gentle little wife trying to manage him.
"If the beast gets away from Quinlan, my wife will get trampled. Where are they?"
"Laird, I don't think you grasp what it is I'm telling you. The black can't get away from Quinlan because he isn't standing that close to him at all. He's just watching out for mi'lady."
"Dear God… she could be…"
"No harm's come to her. I know it for a fact."
Connor was nearly to the door when Davis's words stopped him. "How would you know if she's safe or not?" he asked.
"Someone in the crowd would have come looking for you if anything had happened to your dear wife."
"The crowd? What crowd?"
"The crowd watching your wife. They started gathering one at a time about six or seven days ago. No one bothers mi'lady, though; so you can rest your mind about that. And Quinlan's always standing by, looking out for her. I don't have to watch to know what's going on. All I've got to do is walk outside and listen to the sound the crowd makes, and I know right away how mi'lady's doing. When she takes a spill, they groan real loud, and when she stays upright, well then, they cheer her on, of course. Lately I've been noticing more cheering than not, which tells me mi'lady's finally catching on to how it's done."
"Where are they?"
"On the opposite side of the slope behind the kitchens. Just follow the noise," he called out when his laird took off running. "Hear that moan? Well, now, that can only mean…" Davis didn't see any point in continuing his explanation; his laird had already vanished over the top of the hill.
By the time Connor strode past the kitchens, he could hear the crowd's thunderous cheer, indicating his wife was safe… for the moment. He started breathing again, but he was so shaken that he was a little amazed he could remember how.