"The thought has crossed our minds," Iain replied.
Judith looked at Brodick. "If this man hears that Gillian has seen him… if he knows she can point him out, then won't he try to silence her? Alec told us there were three men who took him, so we know this traitor isn't acting alone."
"But he doesn't know I saw him," Gillian argued. "So I am quite safe."
"Who besides the three of you know that Gillian saw the traitor?" Judith asked her husband.
"My brother, Patrick, was told, and while I'm away, he will watch over you, our sons, and Ramsey's brother. Dylan and Winslow were also told, and Ramsey plans to explain the situation to his commander, Gideon, as well."
Turning to Ramsey, he added, "Patrick won't let Michael out of his sight until this is over."
"My brother couldn't be in safer hands," Ramsey replied.
"Why was Winslow told?" Judith asked softly.
"Surely you trust Brodick's brother," Gillian stammered. "You cannot be concerned he would break his laird's confidence."
"I trust Winslow with my life," she said. "That isn't why I asked my husband the question, but as you know, Winslow is commander over our troops," she explained. "And I know Iain had a good reason for telling him. I want to know what it is."
Iain looked uncomfortable. He glanced at Gillian and then turned to his wife.
"Winslow needed to know so that he could prepare."
Judith wouldn't let it go. "Prepare what?"
Gillian stiffened. "For battle?"
"You're going into England?"
"When?" Gillian demanded.
"When you give us the names of the Englishmen," Brodick answered.
She took a step toward him. "Us? Then Dylan is also going to prepare your soldiers?"
He smiled. "My soldiers are always prepared. He will simply see to the details."
"How can you ask me such a question? Iain's my ally and my friend, and Alec is my godson. It's my duty to retaliate on the boy's behalf."
"But there's another reason as well, isn't there?" Ramsey asked.
Brodick, guarded now, slowly nodded. "Yes, there is another reason."
"And what would that reason be?" Judith asked.
Brodick shook his head to let her know he wasn't going to explain. Gillian turned to Ramsey. "What about your commander? Is he going to prepare your troops?"
Incredulous, she addressed the one person she believed was still sane. "Judith, they cannot think to invade England."
"They think they can," Judith answered.
"We're only going after three men, not the entire country," Iain said dryly.
"But they are three powerful barons," she said. "If warriors ride into England armed for battle, I assure you King John will hear of it. You will risk war with England, whether you intend to or not."
"Ah, lass, you don't understand," Brodick told her. "Your king won't even know we're there. No one's going to see us."
"Do you think you're going to become invisible?"
"Now, Gillian, there's no need for sarcasm," Ramsey said, flashing a heart-stopping grin she would have found charming if the topic hadn't been so obscene.
"Of course King John will know you're there," she cried out in frustration. "Tell me, Brodick. When exactly are you planning this invasion no one's going to know about?"
"Iain already answered that question," he replied. "We'll leave as soon as you give us the names of the English pigs."
"I see," she said. "Now that I thoroughly understand your plans, I'm never going to give you their names. I'll find a way to deal with them. One way or another, justice will prevail."
Iain scowled. "Gillian, what do you think you could do? You're a woman—"
Brodick defended her. "She's strong, and she's determined, and very clever. I honestly think she would find a way to defeat the bastards."
"It wasn't praise," he countered. "I'm simply stating what I know to be true. However, I cannot let you rob us of our rights, Gillian. We have just as much at stake in this as you do."
"Revenge isn't my primary motive," she argued. "But it's yours, isn't it?"
He shrugged. She turned to Ramsey in hopes of ending the discussion. "I could be ready to leave in just a few minutes."
Ramsey nodded. "Are you coming with us, Brodick?"
"It's time for that direct question, lass."
"Brodick, I seem to remember that when Annie Drummond was about to pour that godawful mother's fire on my arm, you told her I wouldn't make a sound."
"And you didn't, did you?"
"No, I didn't," she answered. "But you didn't ask me. You told me. I'm just following your lead."
"For the love of God," he muttered, his patience at an end. "If you want me to come with you, then ask. Do it now, Gillian, or I'm leaving."
"You would leave me?" she whispered, appalled he would threaten such a thing.
He looked like he wanted to throttle her. "Ask me," he demanded again.
"I don't want you to think that I need you…"
"You do need me."
She took a step back. He followed. With a sigh, she tried again. "It's just that I've gotten to know you quite well and I trust you."
"I already knew you trusted me."
"Why are you making this so difficult?"
"I'm a difficult man."
"Aye, he is," Ramsey agreed.
The others had obviously heard every word she'd said. Feeling like a fool, she asked, "Will you come with me?"
Brodick tilted her chin up with his thumb. "I'll stay with you until you get back home. I give you my word," he promised. "Now you can stop worrying."
Oblivious to their audience, he leaned down and kissed her. It was a gentle touch of his mouth against hers, and it was finished before she even had time to blink, yet it still made her heart race.
A burst of laughter startled her, and she turned to the sound. Her eyes widened then, for now there were at least twelve women waiting by the trees.
"Laird Maitland, there are quite a few young ladies waiting to speak to you," Gillian said.
Judith laughed. "They aren't waiting to speak to my husband. He's already taken."
"Taken?" Gillian asked.
"Married," Judith explained.
"For as long as Gillian is in the Highlands, she's my responsibility," Iain began. "She is the reason my son is alive," he added. "I will therefore act as her guardian."
"I also feel a tremendous responsibility for Gillian," Ramsey said. "Because of her, my brother will remain safe, and I now know I have an insurrection on my hands."
Iain stared at Brodick now and said, "I won't have her reputation blackened."
"Meaning?" Brodick demanded.
"People are going to talk," Judith said. "I don't want Gillian's feelings injured."
"And what will they say?" Gillian asked.
Judith deliberately avoided giving a direct answer so that she wouldn't embarrass her new friend. "Some will be cruel. Not the Maitlands, of course, but others will say terrible things."
"She's trying to tell you that there will be speculation you're Brodick's mistress."
"Iain, must you be so blunt?" Judith cried out.
"She needs to understand."
"Is there talk now?" Gillian asked.
"That isn't a satisfactory answer," Brodick said. "Is her reputation being blackened now?"
He sounded outraged by the possibility. Gillian straightened her shoulders. "I don't care what the talk is," she said. "I will admit I hadn't thought about… that is to say, with everything else on my mind, I didn't stop to consider…" She suddenly stopped trembling, and though she could feel her face burning with mortification, her voice was firm when she said, "People who spend their time gossiping are petty and foolish. They may call me harlot for all I care. I know what's in my heart, and I only have to answer to God."
"I damn well do care," Brodick said angrily. "And I'm not going to let anyone slander you."
"How do you plan to stop them, Brodick?" Ramsey asked.
"Yes," Iain said, "tell us what you plan to do about it."
In Brodick's mind there was really only one possible solution. With a long drawn out sigh he said, "Marry her, I suppose."
Gillian's gasp nearly knocked her over. "You suppose wrong."
Everyone, including Judith, ignored her protest. "It makes sense to me," Iain said.
"Yes, it does," Ramsey agreed. "Brodick's been acting very possessive of her. Last night he wouldn't let me near her except when he was by her side."
"He's well aware of how women tend to forget themselves when they're around you," Iain remarked. "And there was that unfortunate incident in England when you and Brodick went to find brides. He's probably still chafed about that."
"I'm not chafed," Brodick snapped.
His friends ignored his protest. Ramsey shrugged. "It happened over eight years ago," he reminded Iain. "Besides, Brodick wouldn't have been happy with a woman who could so easily turn her attentions to other men."
"Which is why neither one of you brought her home."
"Neither one of us wanted her. She lacked morals."
"That's an understatement," Iain said with a chuckle.
Brodick looked as if he wanted to kill Iain and Ramsey, but his friends remained unconcerned.
"There's more to this story than you're telling, isn't there?" Judith asked.
No one answered the question. Iain winked at her, and she decided she would find a way to get the details later.
"She was wearing your plaid last night, Brodick," Ramsey said then.
"He insisted she wear his colors," Iain said. "It's little wonder people are speculating about her position."
"I heard that during the celebration you kissed her in front of the entire Maitland clan."
Brodick shrugged. "Not the entire clan, just some."
"You wanted everyone to know—" Iain began.
Brodick cut him off. "Damned right I did."
"He wanted everyone to know what?" Judith asked after giving Gillian a worried look.
"That Gillian belongs to him," Iain explained.
"That's why he kissed her in front of witnesses all right," Ramsey said.
Poor Gillian looked as though she'd just been struck hard on her head. Judith took mercy on her, for she knew she didn't understand the blunt ways of the Highlanders.
"I'm sure it was just a friendly little kiss, the kind one cousin would give another in greeting."
Gillian was frantically nodding when Brodick muttered, "The hell it was."
With a little sigh, Judith gave up. If she'd learned anything in her years living with Iain, it was that none of the Highlanders knew how to be subtle. If they wanted something done, they did it themselves, and if one of them wanted a woman, he took her. It was that simple. The men respected women, of course, and for that reason they usually married them before they took them to their bed, but once they made the commitment, they kept it until the day they died. In this instance, Brodick obviously wanted Gillian, and no amount of arguing would change his determination. He would take her, and his two loyal friends with their outrageous banter were simply letting him know they approved the match and would do anything they could to help.
None of them, however, were considering Gillian's feelings in the matter. Judith patted her friend's hand to let her know she sympathized. Gillian looked positively dazed.
"Do you love Gillian?"
Dead silence followed the question. If looks could kill, Iain would be without a wife by now, Judith thought. It was very apparent that Brodick didn't like being pinned down with such a personal question. Judith didn't back away, though; she had Gillian's best interests at heart after all. "Do you?"
"Sweetheart, that isn't a question you should be asking," Iain said.
"I think it is," she argued. "Someone has to look out for Gillian."
"We're looking out for her," Ramsey said.
"And Brodick obviously wants her," Iain interjected.
"Wanting isn't enough," Judith said. "Have you all forgotten she's English?"
"She used to be English," both Ramsey and Iain said at the same time.
Judith let them see how exasperated she was. "Didn't you and Brodick vow to marry Highlanders or not marry at all?" she asked Ramsey.
"Yes, they did," Iain answered. "After that unfortunate incident in England—"
"Will you quit calling it an 'unfortunate incident?'" Brodick demanded.
"We did make that promise," Ramsey admitted. "But Brodick has obviously changed his mind."
"I'm thinking of her reputation," Brodick muttered.
"Then simply stay away from her," Judith suggested.
"That is not an acceptable solution," Brodick said.
"Why isn't it?" Judith prodded.
"Because he doesn't want to stay away from her," Ramsey said. "That much should be obvious to you, Judith."
She decided to try another direction. "Brodick, have you told her what her life will be like living with the Buchanans?"
He shrugged. "I only just decided to marry her," he admitted.
"He told me I'd be miserable." Gillian's voice was but a hoarse whisper. She was still reeling from Brodick's outrageous impudence in dictating her future, but anger was quickly replacing disbelief, and within seconds she was trembling. She kept telling herself that any minute now they would have their laugh and tell her it was all just a game.