Ramsey struggled not to laugh when he answered. "I heard, Father, but I would remind you of what Brodick has said. Gillian has her own mind. 'Tis my belief she will find his followers very pleasant."
"How could she—" the priest began.
"She finds the Buchanan laird pleasant enough. He wouldn't be by her side if she did not. Brodick can be quite… charming… when he puts his mind to the task." Ramsey choked on the last of his words and then burst into laughter.
The priest returned to Brodick. "She can't possibly know what's in store for her."
"Are you suggesting that I will not look out for her or that any of my clan will mistreat her?"
Father Laggan realized he'd overstepped his bounds and hastily tried to repair the damage he had done. Raising his hands he said, "No, no, I was merely suggesting… the lass appears to be such a gentle lady… and I cannot imagine how she will survive such a harsh environment."
Gillian couldn't understand what had precipitated this peculiar conversation and why Father Laggan was so obviously distressed. She looked at Brodick, hoping he would explain what in heaven's name was going on, but he ignored her as he spoke to the priest in rapid Gaelic. His brogue was thick, his hostility apparent, and she was horrified that he would speak to a man of the cloth in anger.
He was telling the priest how much Gillian meant to him and that he would die before letting any harm come to her. He knew she didn't understand a word he was saying, but Father Laggan did, and at the moment that was all that mattered.
Brodick was vastly amused when Gillian blurted out, "You mustn't speak to a priest so harshly. God won't like it." Turning to Father, she said, "He doesn't mean to be insolent."
"You need not apologize for me," Brodick said.
"I'm guarding your soul," she snapped.
"You are mindful of his soul?" the priest asked.
"Someone has to be," she answered. "He isn't going to get to heaven without assistance. Surely you realize that, Father, for you have known him longer than I."
"Gillian, enough of this foolish talk," Brodick ordered.
She ignored him. "But he also has a good heart, Father. He just doesn't want anyone to know it."
The priest smiled. "You have seen this goodness within him?"
"Aye," she answered softly. "I have seen it."
The priest squinted as he studied her. "You were raised in a peaceful household?"
"Yes, I was. My uncle's home was very peaceful."
"Yet you're willing…" Father Laggan shook his head. "As I said before, I do not know how you will ever survive in such a harsh environment."
"Father, Brodick and I are going to Ramsey's holding," she said, hoping to correct any misunderstanding.
"But you will not stay there forever," he shouted in frustration. "You will have to go home sometime."
"Yes, of course I will. I must go back to—"
"Gillian, how did you manage it?" Ramsey shouted.
Startled, she turned to him. "Manage what, Ramsey?"
"If you're afraid, how did you manage to climb into the gorge to get Alec?"
"You want to discuss this now?"
"But I was just explaining to Father Laggan that I must—"
"Answer Ramsey's question, Gillian," Brodick ordered.
She gave up trying to control the conversation then and there. "How did I climb down to get Alec? It was simple. I closed my eyes."
"It must have been difficult for you. I saw how your face turned gray a few minutes ago when you were close to the ledge."
"I didn't have a choice, and I didn't have much time. Alec's rope was tearing."
"Now, lass, if I could gain your cooperation for a moment, I would like to ask a few pertinent questions," Father Laggan insisted.
At the very same time Ramsey said, "Of course you had a choice. To do something you're so obviously afraid of required bravery."
"Gillian did what needed to be done. Of course she's brave," Brodick said.
She disagreed. "No, I wasn't brave at all. I was so scared I was shaking. And I cried," she thought to add.
"Gillian, you will not argue with me about this. I have said that you are brave, and you will accept that I know what I'm talking about."
She didn't like being contradicted. "Brodick, the pope is infallible. You are not. Therefore, you cannot possibly know—"
"I really would like to continue," the priest urged. "Now, lass, I need to know this. Are you in good standing with the Church?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"He wants to know if you're in good standing with the Church," Brodick repeated.
She looked from one to the other. "I believe I am."
"And when was your last confession?" Laggan asked.
"Answer him," Brodick ordered.
Her temper flared. "I have asked you not to take that tone with me," she whispered. "I don't like it."
Father Laggan heard her. His mouth dropped open, his eyes bulged, and he stammered, "You dare to criticize Laird Buchanan?"
Embarrassed because he had heard her rebuke, she tried to justify her actions. "He dared to snap at me, Father. You heard him, didn't you? Shouldn't I stand up for myself?"
"Yes, of course you should, but, lass, most women wouldn't. They would fear his retaliation."
She scoffed at the notion. "Brodick would never harm a woman."
Father Laggan surprised her then by laughing. "I have heard it said that there is a special woman for every man, no matter how contrary and barbaric that man might be, and now I must admit that it is certainly so."
"Can we get on with this?" Brodick demanded.
"Yes, of course," Father agreed. "Lady Gillian, I ask you again. When was your last confession?"
She blushed. "It's been a long while."
Laggan didn't like hearing that. "And why haven't you partaken of this most holy sacrament?"
"I must answer these questions before I can continue to Ramsey's?" she asked.
"You must," Ramsey said.
"Father's waiting for your answer," Brodick reminded her.
Her head was beginning to ache. She seemed to be the only one who thought the priest's inquisition was strange, but when she got Brodick alone, she was going to demand that he explain. For the moment, she decided to placate all of them. "I haven't gone to confession because England has been placed under an interdict and priests are not allowed to administer the sacraments except in dire emergencies. Surely you've heard of our pope's… unhappiness… with King John. The two are waging war over who will be the Archbishop of Canterbury."
Father Laggan nodded. "The interdict. Yes, of course. What was I thinking? I forgot you came to us from England. Now then, would you like me to hear your confession now?"
She hadn't meant to shout the question, but she was so appalled by the suggestion that she recount her sins in front of Brodick and Ramsey, and without a veil separating her from Father Laggan, she simply couldn't control her reaction.
"She hasn't done anything to warrant forgiveness," Brodick assured Laggan.
"How would you know?" she asked, clearly rattled.
Brodick laughed. "I know."
She glared at him. "I have sinned," she said, inwardly groaning because she sounded as though she were boasting.
"No, you haven't."
His contradiction was the last she was going to put up with. "I have too," she insisted. "Thanks to you, I've been plagued with impure thoughts, and they've all been about you, so you see? I have too sinned."
Only after the words were spoken did she realize what she had said. "My sins are all your fault, Brodick, and if I have to go to purgatory, then by God, you're going with me. Ramsey, if you do not stop laughing, I swear I shall toss you over this cliff."
"Do you love him, lass?" Father asked.
"I do not," she answered emphatically.
"It isn't a requirement," Laggan pointed out.
"I should hope not," she cried.
"But it would make your life easier," he countered.
"Gillian, you will tell the truth," Brodick demanded.
He grabbed hold of her hand. She tried to pull back, but he wouldn't let go.
"I have told the truth. I don't love Ramsey, and if he doesn't stop laughing at me, the Sinclairs will soon be looking for a new laird."
"Not Ramsey," Laggan shouted so he could be heard over Ramsey's laughter. "I'm asking you if you love Brodick."
"Did you tell Father I love you? Who else did you tell?"
In Brodick's opinion, the question didn't merit an answer. He quietly asked her to tell him again that she loved him.
"Brodick, now is not the time…"
"It's the perfect time."
She didn't agree. "What I said to you was private."
"Do you love me?"
Reluctant to admit the truth in front of an audience hanging on her every word, she bowed her head. "I do not wish to discuss matters of the heart now."
Brodick wouldn't be denied, and after nudging her chin up, he asked her again, "Do you love me?"
He squeezed her hand to get her to respond. "You know that I do," she whispered.
His expression solemn, he pulled the strip of plaid from behind his shoulder and draped the end over their joined hands.
Gillian understood what was happening then. In a panic, she tried to pull her hand free, but Brodick wouldn't let go of her, and after a few seconds of struggling, she stopped fighting.
Her heart belonged to him.
Staring into her eyes, he commanded, "You will give the words."
She stubbornly remained silent. He stubbornly persisted. "I want the words, Gillian. Don't deny me."
She could feel everyone watching her, and she knew how relentless Brodick could be. He would continue to prod her until he had what he wanted. Besides, it wasn't possible for her to deny him her love, and if he needed to hear the words again, then she would say them.
With a sigh she realized she had lost the battle, yet victory was hers. "I love you," she said in the barest of whispers.
"Now and forever?"
She paused for a moment and then put all her worries and fears aside, and made up her mind.
"And I will honor and protect you, Gillian," Brodick said. His hand moved to the back of her neck, and he roughly pulled her close. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Father Laggan raise his hand and make the sign of the cross.
She was powerless to resist when Brodick lowered his head to kiss her. There was such blatant possessiveness in his touch. Her hand stroked the side of his face, and for the moment she ignored her audience and the cheers echoing in her ears. When he finally let go of her, she had to grab hold of the pommel to keep from falling off her horse. She tried to repair her appearance while Brodick tossed the strip of plaid back over his shoulder and secured it in his belt.
She kept waiting for Brodick to say something to her, but he seemed content to remain silent, and so she turned to Father Laggan.
"God be with you," he said.
Ramsey, grinning like a culprit, slapped Brodick's shoulder. "We must celebrate tonight."
"Celebrate what, Ramsey?" she asked innocently.
"You have satisfied the Church."
"Then we may continue on?"
Before she could ask him any further questions, he hastily turned to the priest. "Father, will you be dining with us tonight?"
"I promised Laird MacHugh that I would stop by, but if darkness doesn't catch up with me on my way back, I'll gladly accept your hospitality. 'Tis the truth these old bones of mine have grown accustomed to a warm bed at night. An empty warm bed," he added with a glare in Brodick's direction.
"An empty bed will be waiting for you," Ramsey promised with a grin.
After giving Gillian a pitying look, Father Laggan blurted out, "There's still time… it isn't unheard of for a lass to change her mind before it's too late. Lady Gillian, if you should have second thoughts before tonight, or if you should come to your senses and realize the folly—"
"What's done is done, Father. Let it be," Ramsey said.
Laggan's shoulders sagged. "I warn you, Laird Buchanan. I'm going to continue to watch out for her."
Ramsey laughed. "Does that mean you'll break your own vow and return to the Buchanan holding? I seem to remember you telling Iain Maitland that the Buchanans were all heathens and that you would never step foot on their soil again."
"I remember what I said," the priest snapped. "And I certainly haven't forgotten the unfortunate incident. However, my duty's clear to me. I'm going to keep an eye on Lady Gillian, and if I see that she is unhappy or wasting away, then you'll be answering to me, Laird. You'd best take good care of her. You've got a treasure here, you realize."
After giving his passionate speech, Laggan took up his reins and guided his horse through the throng of soldiers. "God be with you," he called out.
Gillian watched the priest ride away, but Brodick tugged on her hair to get her attention. He brushed her curls over her shoulder. "I'll treat you well," he fervently promised.
"I shall make certain that you do," she responded. "Shall we go now?"
Brodick motioned to Dylan to take the lead, then turned to speak to Ramsey. Gillian saw the commander ride ahead to the cliffs. Instantly horrified, she goaded her mount in the opposite direction. One second she was beside Brodick and the next she was halfway down the southern slope.
"Where the hell is she going?" he asked Ramsey as he goaded his stallion into a gallop. He caught up with her, grabbed her reins, and tried to turn her around. She resisted by pushing his hand away and urging her horse forward again.
"You're going the wrong way."
"Is the right way over that cliff?" she asked, frantic.
"Now, Gillian, it isn't…"
"I won't do it."
"If you'll only let me explain…" he patiently began again.