"I'm not so overly tired tonight," she insisted. "But I appreciate your concern. I should start at the very beginning, the night my father awakened my sister and me and tried to get us to safety."
For the next hour Gillian took the men through her history. Her voice didn't falter and she never once hesitated in her recitation of the facts. She simply told them everything that had happened in concise, chronological order. She tried not to leave anything of importance out, and by the time she was finished, her throat was dry and scratchy.
The men never interrupted her, and only the burning logs crackling in the fire could be heard in the silence that followed. She must have sounded hoarse because Brodick poured a goblet of water for her. She drank it down and thanked him.
To their credit, Iain and Ramsey were amazingly calm, considering what they had just heard. They took turns questioning her, and for another hour she was subjected to an intense grilling.
"Your enemy thought to use your brother to draw you out, Ramsey, so he could kill you," Brodick said. "Who hates you so much that he would go to such extremes?"
"Hell if I know," Ramsey muttered.
"Ramsey, do you know Christen?" Gillian asked. "Have you heard of the family who might have taken her in and claimed her for their own?"
Ramsey shook his head. "I'm only just now getting to know all the members of my clan," he said. "I had been away from home for many years, Gillian, and when I returned to the Sinclairs and became laird, I only knew a handful of my father's followers."
"But Christen isn't a Sinclair," Gillian reminded him.
"Yes, you told me she's one of the MacPhersons, but unfortunately, I haven't had time to get to know many of them either," he admitted. "I honestly don't know how we'll find her."
"Then you'll help me?"
He seemed surprised by her question. "Of course I'll help."
"The old men will know about Christen." Brodick drew everyone's attention when he made the comment.
Iain agreed with a nod. "You're right. The old men will remember. They know all the families and all the gossip. How old was Christen when she came here?"
"Six or seven years old," Gillian answered.
"If a family suddenly claims a little girl as their daughter—" Ramsey began.
Iain interrupted him. "But Gillian just told us that the family lived near the border for several years before going north to join their relatives."
"Still, word would have gotten out if she wasn't their own child," Brodick insisted.
"I'll make inquiries," Ramsey promised.
"Finding her may not be as difficult as you're assuming," Iain said. "Brodick's right about the old men. When Graham and Gelfrid were alive, they knew everything that went on."
"Aye, they did," Ramsey agreed before turning to Gillian again. "Tell me, what will you do when you find her? Will you ask her to return to England with you?"
She bowed her head. "No, I won't," she said. "But it's my hope that she'll remember Arianna's treasure and that she might even know where it's hidden."
"She was very young when she was given the box," Iain said. "You're expecting her to have a strong memory. I doubt she'll remember anything."
"She may not even remember you," Brodick said.
Gillian refused to believe that possibility. "Christen is my sister. She'll know me," she insisted.
"You told us that Christen is a year older than you are," Ramsey said.
"Almost three years older," Gillian corrected.
"Then how is it you remember the details so vividly? My God, you were little more than a baby."
"Liese, my dearest friend, God rest her soul, helped me hold on to the memories. She constantly talked about that night and what she had learned from the others who survived. Liese didn't want me to forget because she knew that one day I would want…"
Brodick nudged her when she suddenly stopped. "She knew you'd want what?"
"And how do you plan to accomplish that?" Ramsey asked.
"I'm not sure yet, but one thing I do know. I won't have my father's name slandered. The man who holds my uncle Morgan captive thinks he can prove that my father killed Arianna and stole the treasure. I mean to prove he didn't. He will rest easy in his grave," she added, her voice shaking with emotion. "I do have a glimmer of a plan," she said then. "Greed motivates the monster," she added, referring to Baron Alford, though she deliberately withheld his name. "And he likes games. He thinks he's so clever, but perhaps I can find a way to turn that against him. That is my hope, anyway."
Weary from having to revisit the past, she took another drink of water and thought to end the discussion. "I don't think I've left anything out," she said. "I tried to tell you everything."
She was about to add her request that she be excused for the evening, but Iain changed her mind with his comment.
"Not quite everything," he said softly.
She leaned back in her chair and put her hands in her lap. "What did I leave out?" she asked, feigning innocence.
Brodick put his hand on top of hers. "They know you saw the Highlander who made this pact with the English devil," he said.
"You told them?"
"Alec told his father, and he told Ramsey," he explained. "But just so you understand, Gillian. If the boy hadn't mentioned it, I sure as certain would have."
"Why did you ask Alec not to tell us about the traitor?" Ramsey asked.
She took a deep breath. "I worried that you might think to keep me here until I pointed out the man who betrayed you."
Iain and Ramsey exchanged a quick look, and she instinctively knew that was their exact plan. They were planning to keep her in the Highlands. She wanted them to admit it. "Is that what you're thinking to do?"
Both lairds ignored the question. "What did he look like?" Ramsey asked.
"He was a big man with long dark hair and a firm jaw. He wasn't unpleasant to look upon," she admitted.
"You've just described most of the men in the Highlands, Gillian. Were there no distinguishing marks that would help us find him?"
"Do you mean scars?"
"Anything that would help us recognize him."
"No, I'm sorry, there really wasn't anything unusual about him."
"I was just hoping… it would make it easier," Ramsey said, and then he leaned forward once again to ask her more questions. She was surprised by the Sinclair laird's restraint. He sounded so calm and in control, yet she knew he had to be sickened and furious by what he had heard thus far. He wasn't letting his emotions get the upper hand, though, and she thought his self-control was quite admirable.
Alec came running down the steps. "Papa, can I bother you?" he called out.
His father's smile was all the permission the child needed. Barefoot, he ran across the hall.
"Alec, why are you still awake?"
"I forgot to kiss you good night, Papa."
Iain hugged Alec, promised he'd look in on him before he went to bed, and sent him back upstairs.
Gillian watched Alec take his time crossing the room, obviously trying to delay going to bed. The young fought sleep, she thought, but the old relished it, and at the moment, she felt absolutely ancient.
"Are there any more questions?" she asked wearily.
"Just one," Ramsey said.
"Yes, just one," Iain agreed. "We want their names, Gillian, all three of them."
She looked from one laird to the other and then said, "And when you know who they are? What do you plan to do?"
"Let us worry about that," Iain said. "You don't need to know."
She disagreed. "Oh, but I think I do need to know. Tell me," she insisted.
"What the hell do you think we're going to do?" Brodick asked in a low voice.
Jarred by his anger, she ordered, "Don't you dare take that tone with me, Brodick."
He was astounded by her outburst and wasn't quite sure how to respond. Had they been alone, he probably would have pulled her into his lap and kissed her, just for the hell of it, but they weren't alone, there was an audience watching and waiting, and he didn't want to embarrass her. He did want to kiss her, though, and that realization irritated him. Where had all his discipline gone? When he was close to her, he couldn't seem to control his own thoughts.
"Hell," he muttered.
"And don't curse in front of me either," she whispered.
He grabbed her arm, pulled her into his side, and bent down to whisper into her ear. "It pleases me to see you've got the courage to stand up to me."
Would she ever understand him, she wondered. "Then I'm about to make you delirious, Laird."
"No," he countered. "You're about to answer the question. We want the names of the Englishmen."
No one noticed that Alec was still lingering in the hall. When he had heard the briskness in his father's voice, he'd turned around to watch and listen, then slowly crept forward. He was worried his papa might be angry with Gillian, and if that turned out to be true, then the boy decided he would become her champion. If that didn't work, he would go and get his mama.
Brodick had leaned back in his chair and was now patiently waiting for her to do as she had been instructed by all three lairds.
"Yes," she suddenly said. "I will be happy to give you their names, just as soon as you promise me you will not do anything until after the fall festival."
"We need their names now, Gillian," Ramsey insisted, completely ignoring her demand.
"I need your promise first, Ramsey. I will not let you put my Uncle Morgan in danger."
"He's already in danger," Iain pointed out.
"Yes, but he's alive now, and I mean to keep him that way."
"How can you be certain he's still alive?" Ramsey asked.
"If he were killed, I would have no reason to return to England. The monster knows that. I won't give him anything until I see my uncle," she explained. "He won't harm him."
Iain sighed. "You're putting all of us in a difficult position," he began, trying to be diplomatic. "You've brought my son home to me and for that I will be eternally grateful. I know how much your uncle means to you, and I promise that I will do everything within my power to free him, but Gillian, I want the name of the man who locked my son away like an animal, the man who beat you near to death—"
"Papa, don't be mad at Gillian." Alec shouted his plea as he ran to his father. Tears clouded the boy's eyes. "She didn't do anything wrong. I know the man's name."
Iain lifted Alec into his lap and tried to reassure him. "I'm not angry," he promised. "And I know Gillian didn't do anything wrong."
"Alec, did you hear all the names?" Brodick asked.
The little boy leaned against his father's chest and slowly nodded. "Yes," he said. "I heard all of the names, but I don't remember the other two… just the man who hurt Gillian."
"That's the name I most want," Brodick said softly. "Who is he, Alec?"
"Alec, please," Gillian began.
"Tell me, Alec. Who is he?"
"Baron," Alec whispered. "His name is Baron."
The screams began in the middle of the night. Judith Maitland awakened with a start, realized she was hearing Alec's bloodcurdling cries, and threw the covers off, but before she could get out of bed, Iain had already reached the children's chamber.
Graham and Michael were sitting up on their mats wide-eyed with fear. Alec fought his father, kicking and scratching. The boy was trapped in his nightmare, and no amount of soothing or shaking could bring him back. His son's tormented screams were unbearable, and Iain didn't know what to do to make him stop.
Judith sat down next to her son, took him into her arms, and rocked him. After several minutes, the child calmed down. His body relaxed against his mother, and he appeared to be sleeping peacefully again.
"Dear God, what hell did my son go through?" Iain whispered.
Tears streamed down Judith's face. She shook her head, her sorrow so overwhelming she couldn't speak. Iain lifted Alec from her lap, kissed the top of his head, and then put him back into bed. Judith covered him with his blanket.
Within the next hour they were awakened twice more by their son's screams, and both times they ran to his side. Judith wanted to bring Alec into their bed, and Iain promised her that if he screamed again, he would let Alec sleep with them.
It took a long time for Judith and Iain to get back to sleep, but when they finally did, they weren't disturbed again. They both slept late, past dawn, until their older son, Graham, came running into their chamber. He went to his father's side of the bed, touched his shoulder, and whispered, "Papa, Alec's gone."
Iain didn't panic. Assuming his son was already up and about, he motioned for Graham to be quiet so he wouldn't disturb his mother. Then he got out of bed, washed and dressed, and went out into the hallway, where Graham waited with Michael.
"He's probably downstairs," Iain whispered as he pulled the door closed behind him.
"He wouldn't go downstairs, Papa," Graham blurted.
"Stop worrying," he ordered. "Alec hasn't disappeared."
"But he did before, Papa," Graham whispered, growing more fretful by the second.
"Both of you, go downstairs and find Helen and have your breakfast. Let me worry about Alec."
Neither boy moved. Michael's head was bowed, but Graham looked his father right in the eyes when he said, "It's dark down there."
"And you don't like the dark." Iain tried his best not to sound perturbed.
"I don't like the dark neither," Michael admitted, his gaze still directed on the floor.
The main door opened, and Brodick and Ramsey came inside. As was their preference, they had both slept outside under the stars. They didn't like being cooped up with walls pressing in on them. They were used to being lulled to sleep with the scent of pine and the brisk wind surrounding them. 'Twas a fact, the only time they liked beds was when they had women with them, but they never slept the night through with any of their female companions.