"Only a Buchanan should wear your colors," she replied. "And I shouldn't proclaim to be something I'm not. If you'll excuse me, I'll just go back upstairs and put my old clothes on."

"No, you won't," Brodick said. He grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him. His goal was to get her to Iain and Judith so that they could introduce her to those they wanted her to meet, but the Maitland soldiers kept interfering with eager requests to meet Gillian. One upstart, built like a bull, was a little too enthusiastic and persistent for Brodick's liking, and he had to knock the man to his knees to get him out of their path as they made their way forward.

Gillian was appalled by his behavior. "You're the Buchanan laird," she reminded him in a whisper.

"I know who I am," he snapped.

If he wasn't going to worry about being overheard, then she wouldn't worry about it either. "Then act like it," she snapped back.

He laughed. "I am. In fact, I'm upholding our reputation and our traditions."

"You and your soldiers are acting like bullies."

"It's good of you to notice."

She gave up trying to reason with him. Elbow shove by elbow shove, they finally reached Iain and Judith. The Maitland laird bowed to her before turning his attention and his obvious displeasure on Brodick.

"Control your soldiers," he ordered. "Or I will."

Brodick grinned. Gillian turned around to find out what Brodick's men were up to and was further distressed to see that they were all doing their best to incite the Maitlands to fight.


She had no right to give orders to the Buchanan soldiers, but she still felt somehow responsible for their actions. She had become quite fond of all of them in a very short while, and she didn't want them to get on Iain's bad side even though the five rascals seemed to thrive on trouble. Fighting, it appeared, was as enjoyable to them as sweets to a child.

"Pray excuse me for one moment, Laird Maitland. I would like to have a word with Brodick's soldiers."

She made a curtsy to her host and hostess, ignoring Brodick altogether because she was having to do his duty for him, and then hurried over to his soldiers, who were in the midst of antagonizing a large group of Maitland warriors.

In a voice loud enough to be overheard by the Maitlands, she said, "It would please me if you act like gentlemen tonight."

They looked crestfallen, but quickly nodded their agreement. She smiled as she turned to the Maitlands.

"Your laird has decreed that none of his soldiers will fight tonight. I realize what a disappointment that must be for all of you good men, but as you know the Buchanans are honorable men, and they will not provoke you further."

"If they cannot fight us, why bother?" Liam said. "Your laird has taken the fun out of the game."

One of the Maitland soldiers slapped his shoulder. "Then what say we break open a keg of ale? We'll show you how Eric can down a full jug without once swallowing. I wager you can't top that feat."

Aaron disagreed, and after bowing to Lady Gillian, the Buchanans followed the Maitlands to the buttery to fetch the ale.

The competition, it seemed, was on.

"Children, every one of them," she muttered as she picked up her skirts and hurried back to the Maitlands.

Judith pulled her away from the men to introduce her to her dearest friend, a pretty, freckle-faced, redheaded lady with two full names, Frances Catherine.

"Her husband, Patrick, is Iain's brother," Judith explained. "And Frances Catherine and I have been friends for many years."

Frances Catherine's smile made Gillian feel at ease in a matter of seconds.

"Judith and I have been whispering about you," she admitted. "You have captured Brodick's attention, and that is no small accomplishment, Gillian. He doesn't like the English much," she added, softening the truth.

"Did he tell you he and Ramsey went to England a long time ago to find brides?" Judith asked.

Gillian's eyes widened and she glanced at Brodick. "No, he didn't tell me. When did he and his friend go to England?"

"It was at least six or seven years ago."

"More like eight," Frances Catherine told her friend.

"What happened?" Gillian asked.

"They were both in love with Judith," Frances Catherine said.

"They were not," Judith argued.

"Yes, they were," she insisted. "But of course Judith was already married to Iain, so they decided they would find brides in England just like her."

Gillian smiled. "They were very young then, weren't they?"

"With foolish expectations," Frances Catherine added. "None of the ladies they met measured up to their Judith—"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Frances Catherine. You needn't make me sound like a saint. They weren't looking for ladies like me. They were just restless and hadn't found mates here. They soon came to their senses, however, and came back home. Both vowed to Iain that they would marry Highlanders."

"And that was that," Frances Catherine said.

"Until you came along," Judith remarked with a smile.

"Brodick has been very kind to me," Gillian said. "But that is all there is to it. He's a very kind man," she added in a stammer.

"No, he isn't," Frances Catherine bluntly replied.

Judith laughed. "Do you have feelings for this kind man?"

"You shouldn't ask her such a question," Frances Catherine said. "But do you, Gillian?"

"Of course I care for him. He came to my aid and helped me get Alec home. I shall be forever indebted to him. However," she hastily added when both ladies looked as though they were going to interrupt, "I must return to England as soon as my duty here is finished. I cannot entertain foolish… dreams."

"There are complications you aren't aware of, Frances Catherine," Judith explained.

"Love is complicated," her friend replied. "Answer one last question for me, Gillian, and I promise I'll stop hounding you. Have you given your heart to Brodick?"

She was saved from having to answer the question when Frances Catherine's husband interrupted them. Patrick Maitland resembled his brother, Iain, in coloring, but he was sparsely built in comparison. He was just as protective of his wife, however, and Gillian noticed that both brothers didn't have any trouble letting others see how they felt about their wives. Their love was apparent, heartwarming, enviable.

Frances Catherine introduced her to Patrick and then proudly pointed out their children, six in all, twin girls who looked like their mother and four handsome sons. The baby couldn't have been more than a year old and was diligently trying to wiggle out of his father's arms. When the baby smiled, two shiny teeth were visible.

Alec tugged on Gillian's hand to get her attention then and presented his brother, Graham, to her. The firstborn Maitland was quite shy. He wouldn't look at Gillian, but he bowed formally all the way to his waist, then ran away to rejoin his friends.

"Our son Graham was named after a valiant soldier who trained my husband," Judith explained. "Graham's been gone almost eight years now, but we still mourn his passing. He was a wonderful man and like a grandfather to me. Ah, there's Helen waving to us. The food must be ready. Come, Gillian, you and Brodick must sit with Iain and me. Frances Catherine, fetch your husband and join us."

Darkness descended and additional candles were placed about the gigantic hall. All the women helped carry in platters of food. Though Gillian offered, she wasn't allowed to lift a finger. She was astonished that such a grand feast could be so quickly prepared. There were pigeon pies and pheasant, salmon and salted trout, thick crusty bread (black and brown), sugared cakes, and sweet apple tarts, and to wash it all down were glistening pitchers of wine and ale and icy cold water, fresh from a mountain stream. There was also goat's milk, and Gillian drank a full goblet of the creamy liquid.

During the meal, Alec was passed around from soldier to soldier. He was too excited to eat and was talking so fast, he stammered.

"My son has dark circles under his eyes," Iain said. "And so do you, Gillian. You will both have to catch up on your sleep."

"They both have nightmares." Brodick made the comment in a low voice so that only Iain would hear. "Where will Gillian sleep tonight?"

"In Graham's old room," Iain replied. "You needn't worry about her. Judith and I will make certain she isn't disturbed."

The music started again and Patrick immediately stood up. He put the baby in Judith's lap, then pulled his wife to her feet. Frances Catherine's face was flushed with excitement as she followed her husband to the center of the room. Other couples quickly joined them. They danced to the accompaniment of men stomping their feet and clapping their hands to the lively rhythm of the tune.

Several bold young soldiers came forward to ask Gillian to dance, but one dark look from Brodick sent them scurrying away.

He was getting angrier by the second. By all that was holy, couldn't they see she was wearing his plaid? And couldn't they leave her alone for one damned night? The lass was clearly all worn out. Why even Iain had remarked about the dark circles under her eyes. Brodick shook his head in disgust. What in thunder did he have to do to make certain that Gillian got a little peace and quiet?

And what right did he have to be so possessive? She didn't belong to him. They had simply been thrown together for Alec's sake.

"Hell," he muttered.

"Excuse me?" Gillian's arm rubbed against his when she leaned toward him. "Did you say something, Brodick?"

He didn't answer her. "He said, 'hell,'" Iain cheerfully informed her. "Didn't he, Judith?"

"Yes, he most certainly did," she replied, her eyes sparkling with mischief as she patted her nephew. "He said, 'hell.'"

"But why?" Gillian asked. "What's wrong with him?"

Iain laughed. "You," he answered. "You're what's wrong with him."

Brodick scowled. "Iain, let it alone."

"Milady, could I have a dance with you?"

Alec stood right behind Gillian, poking her between her shoulders to get her attention. When she turned around and smiled at him, he bowed low. Lord, he was adorable, and she had to resist the urge to scoop him up in her arms and hug him tight.

While Brodick was patiently explaining to the child that Gillian was too tired to dance, she stood up, curtsied as though the King of Scotland himself had honored her, and then put her hand out for Alec to clasp.

Alec thought that dancing meant circling until he was dizzy. Brodick moved to the side of the hall and leaned against a pillar with his arms folded across his chest while he watched. He noticed how Gillian's dark curls shimmered red from the light of the fire blazing in the hearth behind her, and he noticed her smile too. It was filled with such sweet joy.

Then he noticed he wasn't the only man noticing. As soon as the dance ended, soldiers, like vultures, came swooping in. At least eight men surrounded her, begging for her attention.

All of them wanted to dance with her, but she politely declined their requests. She found Brodick in the crowd, and without even thinking about what she was doing, she walked over to him and stood by his side. Neither looked at the other and neither spoke, yet when she moved closer to him, he moved toward her, until their bodies touched.

He stared straight ahead when he asked, "Do you miss England?"

"I miss my Uncle Morgan."

"But do you miss England?"

"It's home."

Several minutes passed in silence as they watched the dancers, and then she asked, "Tell me about your home."

"You wouldn't like it."

"Why not?"

He shrugged. "The Buchanans aren't like the Maitlands."

"And what does that mean?"

"We're… harder. They call us Spartans, and in some ways I think perhaps we are. You're too soft for our way of life."

"There are other women living on the Buchanan land, aren't there?"

"Yes, of course."

"I'm not certain what you meant when you said I was too soft, but I have a feeling it wasn't flattery. Still, I'm not going to take offense. Besides, I'd wager that the Buchanan women aren't any different than I am. If I'm soft, then so are they."

He smiled as he glanced down at her. "They'd have you for their supper."


"Your feelings would be destroyed in a matter of minutes."

She laughed, and heads turned in response to the joyful sound.

"Tell me about these women," she asked. "You've made me very curious."

"There isn't much to tell," he replied. "They're strong," he added. "And they can certainly take care of themselves. They can protect themselves against attack, and they can kill as easily and as quickly as any man." With another glance at her he added, "They're warriors, and they sure as certain aren't soft."

"Are you criticizing them or praising them?" she wanted to know.

"Praising them, of course."

She moved so that she stood directly in front of him. "What was your purpose in telling me about the women in your clan?"

"You asked."

She shook her head. "You started this conversation. Now finish it."

He sighed. "I just wanted you to know that it could never work."

"What couldn't work?"

"You and me."

She didn't try to pretend she was outraged by his impudence or insulted by his arrogance. "You're a very blunt man, aren't you?"

"I just don't want you to get your hopes up."

He knew he'd pricked her temper with his last comment—her eyes had turned the color of an angry sea—but he wasn't going to take the words back or soften the truth.

He dealt in reality, not fantasy, yet the thought of walking away from her was becoming more and more unacceptable to him. What the hell was the matter with him? And what was happening to his discipline? It fairly deserted him now, for though he tried, he found it impossible to make himself look away from her. He focused on her mouth, remembering all too well how wonderfully soft her lips had been pressed against his. Damn, but he wanted to kiss her again.

His eyes narrowed, and he looked as though he were about to start growling at her any moment.

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