He draped his arm around her shoulders and led her back to the main path.
"Will we sleep outside tonight?"
"We won't sleep," he replied. "But if you want to stay outside tonight, we will."
"Yes. You look tired."
"So do you. Brenna, don't ever put me through this torment again. Promise me you won't leave me, no matter what happens."
"I promise you. Come and meet my sister. What in heaven's name is she doing? She's entirely too close to the end of the path. None of the MacAlisters would…"
"What are you saying?"
"If she steps off the path, he's got her. That's what I'm saying."
"Make him stop staring at her."
"Your sister doesn't seem to mind. She's staring back. She keeps moving closer to him too."
"Faith, come over here," Brenna shouted.
Her sister ignored her. "Connor, make Quinlan and Crispin come here."
"I can ask, but neither one of them will come. As far as they're concerned, their duty has already been determined. They're protecting us, sweetheart. You should be proud of their restraint."
"Why should I be proud of them?"
"They want to kill the English, of course."
Dear heavens, she'd forgotten about Gillian. "You must come and meet my brother."
"If he comes to you, will you meet him then?"
He shrugged before he gave her his conditions. "If he's armed, I'll have to take him aside and discuss the insult with him."
She knew what that meant. "He won't be armed," she rushed out. "I'll go get him."
The force behind the denial told her she wasn't going to get him to change his mind. Father Sinclair came to her aid. A moment later, Gillian joined them at the center of the path. Like Connor, he was also unarmed.
Her husband didn't particularly want her to embrace her brother, but he didn't make an issue of it.
While she thanked Gillian for coming to get Faith, Father Sinclair went to fetch their sister. He got to her in the nick of time, he realized, when Quinlan winked at her. The priest grabbed her before she stepped off the path.
"You may say good-bye to the MacAlisters in a few minutes, Faith. Your sister would appreciate your help in gaining Gillian's cooperation."
"Is Brenna's husband cooperating?"
"No, no, of course not, but both Brenna and I know he will never cooperate with an Englishman. He hasn't killed him, though, and we must all appreciate the control he is showing for his wife's benefit."
Faith shook her head but quickened her step until she was running.
"I'm sorry I took so long, Gillian."
Her brother's response was to push her behind him. She took immediate exception and pushed him back. Then she ran to her sister and sat down on the wall next to her.
The two men continued to face each other as adversaries.
Brenna became impatient in no time at all. "Gillian, aren't you happy to see me?"
He finally stopped staring at Connor long enough to look at her. "Yes, of course I am. Are you coming home with me?"
"No. I'm going home with my husband. We are married, Gillian, and I assure you, I'm very happy. Tell Father I forgive him for sending me to MacNare."
"He didn't know what the bastard was capable of, Brenna. He also doesn't know you're married."
Faith explained before Brenna could ask any questions. "He thinks you're living in sin," she whispered so her sister's husband wouldn't overhear.
Father Sinclair stepped forward. "It was a proper ceremony, Gillian, with the church's blessing."
"Did you marry them?" Gillian asked.
His blue eyes bore into the priest. It was obvious he was trying to decide if he should believe him or not.
"Gillian, please tell Mother I'm sorry she and Father weren't able to attend my wedding."
Her brother once again turned to her. "Were you married in a church?"
"We were married in one of God's most beautiful chapels. No expense was spared. There were flowers everywhere, and in every color imaginable. I entered the chapel under a canopy of green branches that were so fresh and new, dew still clung to them and sparkled like jewels against the flickering lights above.
The scent of heather surrounded us while we pledged ourselves to one another. Both Connor and I were finely adorned in the most magnificent of robes, and when the ceremony was properly blessed, we attended our wedding feast."
Her eyes were misty with her recollection, and the joy her brother saw as she gave the details only a woman would remember convinced him that she had indeed been properly wed. It was also apparent that she was happy.
"The wedding was magical, wasn't it, Father?" The priest was overcome by her recitation. He dabbed at the corners of his eyes with the edge of his sleeve, nodded several times, and said, "Aye, lass, it was magical, and meant to be. Do you realize, Baron, that if it weren't for Laird MacAlister, your sister probably wouldn't be alive today."
"Yes, I realize it."
It was all he was willing to give. Brenna found his acknowledgment satisfying. Connor couldn't have cared less. His wife's memory of their wedding had overwhelmed him, and all he wanted to do was get her alone and tell her how proud he was of her.
"Brenna, it's time to go home."
She stood up, went to her brother, and kissed him on his cheek. "I love you, Gillian."
"I love you too, Brenna. Make him take care of you."
"He does take good care of me. He loves me, Gillian, and I love him."
"I can see you do."
The two men stared at each other for a long silent moment. Brenna stood between them, waiting for them to acknowledge each other.
Gillian finally conceded. He bowed his head to her husband. Connor inclined his head then to him.
It was as good as it was going to get, Brenna knew, and even though they were both arrogant and stubborn, she still loved them.
Connor put his arm around his wife and turned to leave.
"Just one minute, Laird," Faith called out. She went around her brother's back so he couldn't detain her and chased after Brenna and Connor.
"Laird, do you know how many brothers and sisters your wife has?"
Brenna nudged him so he would answer. "My wife is the seventh of eight in the family. You're the youngest, aren't you?"
"Yes. Do you know their names?"
"Faith, it isn't necessary to…"
"Yes, it is necessary. We're important to you, and therefore we should be important to your husband, shouldn't we?"
"Come here, Faith."
She didn't even think about refusing him. She hurried forward and looked up into his eyes. "Yes?"
"Yes, Laird," Brenna corrected.
"He's my brother now. Must I still call him Laird?"
"You know perfectly well you must until he gives you permission to drop the title, which I might add, he hasn't done yet. We were raised in the same household."
Faith laughed. "Very well. My question wasn't answered yet, Laird. Would you like me to tell you the names of our brothers and sisters?"
"That isn't necessary. There's Gillian, William, Arthur, Matilda, whom you call Mattie, Joan, Rachel, my wife, and you."
"You knew… all the while, you knew who they were?" Brenna asked.
"Then why didn't you let me talk about them?"
"Because you were mourning your family. Talking about them wouldn't have made you feel any better. I also wanted your loyalty. I believe I already explained this to you."
She leaned against him. "You may explain it again when we get home. Faith, it's time to say good-bye. I'll miss you."
Her sister hugged her. "I shall miss you more. Laird, I forgot to thank you. Gillian told me you sent men to my home to protect me from MacNare."
"You sent soldiers to my parents? They went into England?"
Brenna was staggered.
"Yes, he did," Faith assured her. "Mother liked the soldiers. Father wasn't there, but he was pleased when he heard the lengths your husband had gone to to protect me. I was wondering…"
"Yes?" Connor asked. Neither his wife nor her sister realized they were walking toward the end of the sanctuary. Quinlan certainly noticed, if his grin was a true indicator. Knowing his friend as well as he did, Connor was certain he had already counted the number of steps Faith would have to take to leave the sanctuary of the church and become fair game.
"Are the others here? I wanted to tell the man in charge thank you too, but I don't know his name."
"His name is Quinlan. He will soon be laird over his uncle's clan, now that his duty to me has ended, and yes, he is here, Faith. He's watching you even now."
She immediately looked up at Quinlan and took another step toward him.
"My brother told me what you did. My father will want to thank you for coming to his home to protect me. I thank you too, Quinlan, with all my heart."
Her Gaelic was music to his ears, and unlike her sister's, her command of his language was remarkable.
He didn't speak to her, but he bowed his head in acknowledgment. Lord above, when she smiled, she had dimples.
"Apparently, my mother has taken quite a fancy to you. I hear that she wonders if you will ever come back."
Connor heard what she said and looked up at his friend. "She makes it almost too easy for you, doesn't she?"
Quinlan laughed. "Aye, she does."
Neither Brenna nor Faith understood what Connor had meant by his question. What would be easy?
Faith was just about to leave when Quinlan spoke to her. "Tell your mother I will be coming back. She has something I want."
She wanted to ask him to explain, but felt it would be impolite of her to question him any further. "Then perhaps I will see you again. I don't plan to marry for at least two years, no matter how much my father disagrees. I'm old enough, of course, but I've realized I'm hopelessly spoiled, and since I don't have any intention of changing, I will have to find a baron who will promise to pamper me, and that's going to take time. If I have already wed before you arrive, then please remember how thankful I am to you.
Good-bye, Quinlan. I hope God watches over you."
She made a perfect curtsy to show her respect, kissed Brenna and her husband farewell, much to Connor's astonishment, then turned and went running back to her scowling brother.
"I'm going to miss Faith most of all," Brenna admitted.
"You'll probably see her again," he said.
"I doubt that," she replied. "I'm sorry Quinlan will be leaving us. Will Crispin be given command each time you're called away?"
"No, he'll go to Hugh's holding. They have asked me to assign someone to become their leader. They need Crispin, and he will be pleased as well."
He lifted his wife onto the black, swung up behind her, and then leaned down close to her ear and told her again how much he loved her.
"We're starting over again, aren't we?"
"If it makes you happy to think we are, then I won't argue with you. It will be easier, however, because I will remember always to be thoughtful."
"You already are thoughtful, and is it any wonder at all why I love you? I was wondering…"
"I would like to ride bareback again, and if you rode with me, could I ride one of the other horses?"
"If you agree to stay inside the fortress when you ride bareback, I will grant this request. Do you see how I can be accommodating, wife?"
"Yes, I do," she agreed. "And since you're in such a wonderful mood…"
"About the chapel…"
Sunset was a magical time. The children would be outside, running barefoot up and down the paths and shrieking with laughter while their mother kept a watchful eye on their youngest, a fiery-headed bairn with a wobble in her gait and a devilish gleam in her blue eyes, who found great sport in plucking the flowers out of the ground as soon as her mama planted them.
He would go up to his bedroom to remove his sword before joining them in their games, but he always lingered in front of the window to look out beyond the walls.
The first sprig of heather blossomed almost as soon as the ruins were torn down, and now the field was alive with rich, glorious hues, a fitting tribute, his wife believed, to the man who had gone before.
The scent of honey mingled with the sound of laughter, and, oh, what a joy it was to be home.