"You try my patience."
"I apologize, Laird. I don't mean to try your patience. May I be excused now? I've just heard that there is a lady here from England, and I must make her acquaintance."
"Why must you?" Brodick asked.
She jumped at the bark in his voice but quickly recovered. "Because I've never been to England," she explained. "And I have a thousand questions to ask her. I'm curious to know what life is like in England, and she is the only one who can tell me. I cannot imagine living anywhere but here, and I find myself wondering if she feels the same way about her home in England. I have already decided that I will like her," she added.
"Yes, you will," he predicted.
"You have much in common with Lady Gillian," Ramsey remarked. "You're both stubborn women."
"Is she being forced to marry, then?" Bridgid asked, unable to mask her irritation.
Ramsey took a step toward her. "No one is forcing you to marry, Bridgid."
"Then may I please be excused?"
"No, you may not," Ramsey snapped. "About this Matthias…"
Impatiently settling her hands on her hips, she asked, "Are we back to that?"
"Bridgid, I warn you, I will not tolerate insolence."
She was immediately contrite. "I'm sorry. I know I spoke out of turn, but I have already declined the offer."
Ramsey didn't want to give up. "Do you realize how many requests you've turned down?"
"Yes, I do."
"You've broken many hearts."
"I doubt that, Laird. None of those men know me well enough to have their hearts broken. If I could get them to stop asking, I assure you I would. It's very upsetting for me to have to go through this audience again and again. 'Tis the truth I'm beginning to dread…"
"Dread what?" he asked when she abruptly stopped.
Her face turned pink with embarrassment. "Never mind," she said.
"You may speak freely. Now tell me, what is it you dread?"
"The sight of you," she blurted. "The only time you speak to me is when you want me to hear a proposal. I know how distressing this is for you. You don't wish to waste your valuable time on such inconsequential matters."
"You are not inconsequential."
"But I am difficult, aren't I?"
"Yes, you are."
"Are we finished now?"
"No, we are not. Bridgid, don't you want to get married?"
"Of course I do. I want children," she said, her voice fervent now. "Lots of children, and I'm going to love them the way a mother should."
"Then why have you declined so many requests? If you want to have children—"
She wouldn't let him finish. "I love another."
The announcement took Ramsey by surprise. "You do?"
"Yes, I do."
"Who is this man?"
She shook her head. "I cannot say his name."
"Then marry him," he suggested impatiently.
She sighed. "He hasn't asked me."
"Does he know how you feel?"
"No, he doesn't. He's a very stupid man."
Brodick did laugh then, he couldn't help it. "Yet you love him?" he asked.
She smiled as she answered. "I do. I don't want to love him, but I do, with all my heart. I must be as stupid as he is. That is the only excuse I can give. Matters of the heart are most perplexing, and I'm not smart enough to sort them all out." Turning to Ramsey again, she said, "I will not have Matthias. I won't settle for any man I don't love."
Ramsey's reaction to her announcement puzzled him. When she had admitted she loved another man and therefore wouldn't accept Matthias, he was at first surprised, but that feeling was quickly replaced by what he could only describe as irritation. Though he couldn't figure out why, the thought of her loving someone didn't sit well with him. His reaction didn't make any sense. Here he was trying to persuade her to marry Matthias, and if she had agreed, would he have had the same disappointment? No, he thought, and all because he knew she would never agree.
Shaking himself out of his confusing thoughts, he said, "Tell me who the man is and I will speak to him on your behalf."
"I thank you for your suggestion to help, but the man I love must decide without interference."
"I wasn't making a suggestion. I was giving an order. Tell me his name."
He took another step forward, but Bridgid stood her ground. It wasn't easy. Ramsey was such a big man his nearness was overwhelming, and she had to remind herself that as her laird, it was his duty to protect her, not harm her. She was a loyal member of his family, and like it or not, he had to look out for her best interests. Besides, she knew him to be a kind, generous man. He might scare the breath out of her, but he would never raise a hand against her.
She decided to try to turn his attention in hopes he wouldn't notice she hadn't answered his demand. "Laird, where's Michael? I haven't seen him today, and I had promised him some time ago that I would take him tree climbing."
"All boys should know how to climb a tree."
"And you think you could show him how it's done?"
She slowly nodded.
"He's staying with the Maitlands," he said. "He and Alec have become good friends, but when Michael returns home, you won't be showing him how to climb a tree. It's unladylike, Bridgid."
"I suppose it is," she agreed reluctantly.
Ramsey once again demanded the name of the man she had declared she loved.
Disgruntled because her ploy to make him forget the question hadn't worked, she said, "I don't wish to tell you his name, Laird."
"That much is obvious," he replied. "But you're still going to tell me."
"No, I'm not."
He couldn't believe she had the audacity to defy him. "I'm not going to give up," he warned. "Tell me his name."
The man was as relentless as a dog chasing after a cat, and she had no one to blame but herself because she had foolishly told him what was in her heart.
"You have an unfair advantage," she said.
"You're Laird," she said. "You can speak freely, while I—"
He wouldn't let her finish. "You've been speaking freely since the moment you came inside. Now answer my question."
His voice had a definite bite to it, and she flinched. She didn't know how she was going to get out of the corner he had backed her into.
"Unless you order me to…"
"I've already ordered you to give me his name," he reminded her.
His curtness embarrassed her. She lowered her head so he wouldn't see her face and said, "I'm sorry, but I cannot tell you his name."
Ramsey gave up and decided to let the matter go for now. He was disgusted with himself. It wasn't like him to let his temper flare with a woman. Yet, this particular woman did try his patience.
"Is it a sin to defy you, Laird?" she asked.
The question gave him pause. "No, of course not."
She smiled again. "That's good."
He let her see his irritation. "You know damn good and well it isn't."
Ignoring his comment, she said, "I've taken up too much of your valuable time. With your permission, I shall take my leave now."
She curtsied and tried to leave but he stopped her with his next remark. "If you're not going to marry Matthias, then there is another matter I wish to speak to you about."
She waited, but Ramsey couldn't seem to get the words out. How could he crush her by telling her that her mother didn't want her? He couldn't do it.
"I seem to have forgotten…"
Brodick came to his aid. "Michael."
Ramsey glanced at his friend. "Michael?"
Brodick nodded. "You were telling me you were going to ask Bridgid to help you with your brother because of his tender years, remember?"
Ramsey leapt at the idea. "Yes, that was it. Now I remember. Michael's with the Maitlands now."
"Yes, Laird, you already told me he was visiting with his friend."
"Yes, I did," he said, feeling like an idiot. "But when he comes home…"
Ramsey looked to Brodick for help.
"Ramsey doesn't have time to devote to his brother, and he also feels that Michael needs a woman's influence."
"Yes, that's right," Ramsey agreed. They were both making up the story as they went along, but Bridgid didn't seem to notice.
"I would be happy to help with Michael."
"Then it's settled."
"What's settled? What exactly do you want me to do?"
"Move in here," he explained. "There are three empty chambers upstairs. Choose one and move your things in as soon as possible. You're going to have to leave your home, of course, and I know that it will be difficult for your mother and you," he added, proud of the fact that he hadn't choked on the lie.
"You want me to live here? Laird, it wouldn't be proper. People would talk."
"Then sleep with the servants in the quarters behind the castle."
She contemplated him for several seconds without saying a word, then slowly nodded. The sadness he saw in her eyes was heartbreaking, and it was then that he realized she understood everything.
Straightening her shoulders, she took a deep breath and said, "I'll be happy to help with Michael, but shouldn't I wait until he returns home before I move my clothes?"
"No, I want you to get settled as soon as possible."
"Then if you'll excuse me, I'll get my things now."
Ramsey granted her permission and watched her walk away. Her proud bearing impressed him, more so because he had seen the tears brimming in her eyes before she turned her back to him.
She paused at the entrance and called out, "Laird?"
"Don't judge my mother too harshly. She cannot help the way she feels. She's newly married and wishes privacy with her husband. I'm in the way. Besides, it's time that I left home."
"Do you think that's the reason I asked you to move in here? Because your mother wants privacy?"
"Isn't it?" she asked. "What other reason could there be?"
Lust and jealousy, Ramsey thought, but he wasn't about to tell her the shameful truth, that her stepfather lusted after her and her own mother was jealous of her daughter's beauty.
"I've explained my reason. You will help with Michael, and that's all there is to it."
"You're a kind man, Laird," she said. "But…"
Her smile was fleeting. "You really don't lie all that well."
Nothing was ever easy. After a long and tedious conversation with Brisbane and Otis, Gillian's head was pounding from all of their evasive answers. They were sweet, gentle men, but terribly stubborn. Though neither one of them would admit it to her, it soon became apparent that, while they knew where Christen was, they weren't going to tell until they had spoken to her and gained her permission. Gillian tried to be patient and was finally rewarded when Otis accidentally let it slip that Christen did live on MacPherson land. Gillian's heart leapt with joy, and she began to prod them relentlessly, but to no avail.
So certain was Gillian that Christen would come running as soon as she heard her sister was there, she agreed to wait until the men had talked to her. She begged them to speak to Christen as soon as possible, explaining that time was running out and that she must return to England soon. She didn't tell them why.
Feeling edgy and frustrated after the elders took their leave, Gillian wanted to be alone for a few minutes, and so she took a walk along the stone path that meandered among the buildings of Ramsey's holding. Reaching the top of a hill, she found a shady spot under a tree and sat down. She spread her skirts over the soft tufts of grass and then closed her eyes and cleared her mind, letting the mild, sweet breeze brush against her face. When she opened her eyes again, she took a long look around her. Ramsey's estate was beautiful… and peaceful. Beneath her, the people of his clan carried on the daily routine of their lives. Soldiers sharpened their weapons, while other men bent over their tools, tilling the land for their next crop. Women sat in doorways visiting as they ground the grain for their next loaves of bread, and their children skipped nearby, playing a rambunctious game with a large smooth stone and a stick.
For a brief moment, she was at peace too, taking in the tranquillity of the scene. But then her mind wouldn't let her rest. It raced with all the questions she wanted to ask Christen when she saw her again. She prayed that her sister would remember her, and that her memories would be fond ones. Liese had kept Christen's memory alive with amusing stories about the two of them. She told them over and over again so that Gillian wouldn't forget her sister. Christen didn't have anyone to help her remember, but Gillian hoped that, because she was older, she wouldn't have forgotten.
A woman's shout pulled her from her thoughts, and Gillian turned around just as a young, fair-haired lady came running up the path. Her brow was wrinkled by distress, and Gillian soon understood the reason why, for hot on her trail was a big brute of a man with a look of determination gleaming in his eyes. On closer inspection, she realized the brute was more boy than man.
"I've told you to leave me alone, Stewart, and I mean what I say. If you don't stop pestering me, I'll…"
She stopped suddenly when she spotted Gillian. Almost immediately, she smiled and hurried forward, oblivious now to her unwanted suitor. Stewart stopped and backed away to listen.
"Good day, milady."
"Good day to you," Gillian replied.
"My name's Bridgid," she said as she curtsied haphazardly. "Don't get up," she added. "You're the lady from England, aren't your?"
"Yes," she answered. "My name's Gillian."
"I've been searching everywhere for you," she said. "I was hoping that if you weren't too busy, you would take a few minutes to answer my questions about England. I'm very curious about the people who live there."