He wouldn't let her continue. "A run of bad fortune? Since I've known you, you've been beaten, stabbed, and now shot with an arrow. If this keeps up, you'll be dead in another month, and if that happens, I'm going to be damned angry."

"I was beaten, yes, but that was before I met you," she said, believing she was being quite logical. "And Alec didn't stab me. He cut my arm, but only because he was so frightened. It was just bad luck that it didn't heal. As for the arrow," she continued, "it only pinched my skin. You saw the cut; it wasn't bad."

"It could have pierced your heart."

"But it didn't."

She demanded that he put her down, and when he did, she walked to a tree so that he could see she was as fit as ever. Then she leaned against it to take the weight off the throbbing leg. Forcing a smile, she said, "Do you see? I'm quite all right."

Brodick turned away from her and stared out into the night, brooding. He didn't say a word for several minutes.

"I made up my mind a long time ago that no woman would ever unsettle me again. I will not let it happen."

"What are you telling me?"

His temper exploded. "You and I struck a bargain when we married, and you're going to live up to your end of it."

"What bargain?" she asked quietly.

"You married me for my protection."

"I married you because I love you. Now, tell me, Brodick. Why did you marry me? What did you get out of this bargain?"

He wouldn't answer, but she wasn't about to give up. Prodding him, she asked, "Did you marry me because you loved me?" She held her breath until he answered.

"Love weakens a man, and I'm not weak."

His hard words shattered her heart. She bowed her head so he wouldn't see how he had hurt her. "You told me you wanted to protect my reputation. I remember that conversation, but even then I knew that wasn't the real reason you married me. I thought… I hoped, anyway… that you cared for me. I knew you were grateful because I helped Alec and you're his guardian, but surely you didn't marry me out of gratitude. A simple thank you would have been enough."

"I had a responsibility to you, Gillian, and that is all that need be said about my reasons."

"You care for me, Brodick. I know you do."

He turned away from her. He was acting like a cornered animal. He had never hedged or skirted an issue before. No, he'd been honest and blunt, but now he was deliberately being evasive.

It made her worry all the more. What he wasn't telling her frightened her.

Why was it so difficult for him to admit what was in his heart. "I ask you again. Why did you marry me?"

He refused to answer. "Ramsey's here," he said then. "I'll carry you back, and then you're going to start at the beginning and tell both of us what happened today."

"I can walk," she assured him. "You go ahead. I'll be there in a few minutes."

"You're coming with me now," he told her, and before she could argue, he picked her up and carried her back to the clearing.

One of the soldiers had started a campfire in the center of the grassy flat, and all the Buchanans sat in a circle around the flames. Proster, Ker, and Alan stood together near Ramsey and his men while Proster waited to give his laird their accounting. Bridgid faced her laird, and after one quick glance, Gillian knew her friend was hearing Ramsey's displeasure.

Brodick settled Gillian on the plaid Dylan had spread out for her, but she didn't stay there. As soon as he turned his back and walked away, she got to her feet and went to Bridgid.

"Ramsey, don't blame Bridgid for what happened. She isn't responsible."

"Then Bridgid was forced to leave the holding?"

His voice was deceptively mild, but Gillian knew he was seething with anger. "No, of course she wasn't forced."

"I take full responsibility for my actions," Bridgid said.

"If anyone is responsible for what happened today, you are, Ramsey. Yes, you are," Gillian added when he looked so incredulous. "If you had kept your promise to me, this incident could have been avoided."

"What promise?" he demanded.

"It meant so little to you that you have already forgotten?"

Ramsey glared at Brodick, obviously seeking his assistance. "Your wife believes I'm responsible."

"She's wrong."

Folding her arms defiantly, she boldly turned to Brodick. "I warned you that I would give Ramsey until noon today to do as he promised and order my sister to see me, but he didn't, and so I took matters into my own hands. Bridgid was kind enough to help me."

Ramsey was seething now. "I haven't had time to speak to your sister, and your impatience nearly got you killed."

Bridgid tried to deflect some of her laird's anger. "It was all for the good," she blurted out, and when Ramsey and Brodick looked at her as though she'd lost her senses, she hastened to explain. "You never would have known that Faudron and Durston wanted to hurt Gillian, and now perhaps you can figure out why."

"I'm sorry you're angry with us," Gillian said then. "And I'll admit we did take a needless risk, but in our defense, I would point out that neither one of us knew we were leaving your territory."

"Laird, may I speak freely?" Bridgid asked.

"What the hell have you been doing?" he countered.

She shook her head. "You're my laird and I respect you, and for that reason I will not lose my temper. I would appreciate it if you would treat me with the same consideration, for I am one of your most loyal followers."

"Bridgid, I'm going to assume that the bump on your head has addled you and that's why you dare to speak to me this way."

"Please don't be angry with her," Gillian pleaded on her friend's behalf. "This is all my fault. It's just as you have said, Ramsey. I was impatient."

"I'm the one who came up with the idea to follow Brisbane," Bridgid insisted.

"No, you didn't," Gillian countered. "You told me that Anthony came up with the idea."

Ramsey's roar stopped the discussion. "What does Anthony have to do with this?"

Gillian realized then that Bridgid hadn't told her laird everything. "Anthony told Bridgid that he would follow Brisbane."

"And?" he demanded when she hesitated.

"He told me he did follow him," Bridgid said. "He gave me specific directions, and I memorized them so we wouldn't get lost."

"He sent us into a trap."

Ramsey was shaking with rage. "I'm going to kill the son of a bitch with my bare hands."

"No, you're not," Brodick countered. "He tried to kill my wife. I'm going to kill him. It's my right."

"The hell it is," Ramsey muttered. "By God, he's going to suffer before he takes his last breath."

Chapter Thirty

It was late, well past midnight, and Bridgid and Gillian were so exhausted from their long day and their ordeal, they could barely keep their eyes open. They sat shoulder to shoulder with their backs resting against a tree trunk, their legs stretched out in front of them, trying to hear what their lairds were discussing.

Everyone else had gone to sleep, and the ground was covered in a maze of plaids. Ramsey and Brodick sat in front of the fire with their heads bent, their whispered conversation grave. Ramsey continuously stirred the embers with a long, crooked stick as though looking for a forgotten object, while Brodick gazed at some distant point in the darkness, nodding every now and again at what Ramsey was saying.

Gillian moved her head slightly and stared at Brodick's chiseled profile. She could see the tenseness in his shoulders, and though he sat motionless now, she felt as though he was about to spring.

Bridgid nudged her and whispered, "Ramsey thinks he's done a terrible injustice to the MacPhersons because he thought one of them was responsible for taking Alec Maitland. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," Gillian answered. "I'll explain later. Keep listening."

"I am," she whispered back, and a minute later she turned to Gillian again. "He said that when he came home and challenged for the position of laird, he made an error in judgment by allowing the old guard to stay in place. He acted out of kindness, and that was a mistake."

Bridgid continued to listen and after a while, Gillian nudged her again.

"Ramsey says he's going to stop procrastinating. He's… Oh, God."

"What?"

The look on Bridgid's face showed how devastated she was. "He's going to marry Meggan MacPherson." Her voice trembled.

"Oh, Bridgid, he's the one, isn't he? He's the man you love."

A tear slipped down her cheek. " 'Tis true. I do love him, and I have for the longest time."

Gillian took hold of her hand. "I'm so sorry."

Bridgid wiped a tear from her eye. "Men are stupid."

"Yes, they are," Gillian agreed. "What's Brodick saying?"

"He's trying to talk Ramsey out of it. He just advised him to think long and hard before he makes such a commitment."

"He didn't practice what he's now preaching," she whispered. "And he's very upset with me."

"He must be," she replied. "He just told Ramsey that marriage is a sacrifice." A minute later she whispered, "Now that doesn't make sense."

"What?"

"Ramsey said that in Brodick's case the sacrifice was worth it because he got the Englishmen's names. Do you know what he's talking about?"

Gillian was suddenly furious. "Yes, I do. Is Ramsey saying he believes Brodick married me just to get the names of the Englishmen?"

"What Englishmen?"

"I'll explain later," she promised. "Tell me. Is that what he says?"

Realizing how agitated her friend was, she hastened to answer. "Yes, Ramsey did say that, and your husband just agreed."

Gillian closed her eyes. "I don't want to hear any more."

"What's wrong?" Bridgid whispered. "You can tell me. I'm your dearest friend, aren't I?"

"You're my only friend," she answered. "I'm not going to believe it."

"Believe what?"

"That Brodick married me to get the names of the Englishmen. No, I won't believe it. No one would get married for such a reason. It's sinful."

Bridgid thought about what Gillian had just said, and then whispered, "Did these Englishmen insult one of the lairds?"

"Insult? Oh, Bridgid, they did something much worse."

"Then I'll tell you this. You don't poke a bear in the eye and expect to walk away unscratched. They will get even. The men here never forget a wrong done to them, and they will go to great lengths to get what they want."

"I still refuse to believe that Brodick only married me to get the names. No, I won't believe it. Marriage is a holy sacrament, and he wouldn't… no, he wouldn't do that. He's speaking out of anger now. That's all there is to it."

"Did he ask you for the names of these Englishmen before you were married?"

"Yes."

"But you didn't tell him?"

"No, I didn't." In frustration she added, "And even after we were married, I made him promise he wouldn't retaliate until I had accomplished my task. Then I gave him the names. He gave me his word, and I trust him to keep it. I know he cares for me. He's just too stubborn to admit it. He told me he felt a responsibility for me."

"Of course he cares for you."

"Maybe Brodick will talk Ramsey out of marrying Meggan MacPherson."

"No, I don't think so. Ramsey sounded as though he'd already made up his mind. He's putting the interests of the clan above his own, and that's as it should be because he's laird. He'll do what he thinks is right. I don't think I can stand watching him with her, though. I had already made up my mind to leave, and now I realize I must leave soon."

"Where will you go?"

Bridgid closed her eyes. "I don't know. I cannot stay in the servants' quarters. The new mistress won't like it."

"Maybe your mother will let you come back home."

"No. She's made it clear she doesn't want me around. No one does," she added, knowing she sounded pitiful but too miserable to care. Dabbing a tear away from her eye, she whispered, "The fall I took has made me weepy."

Gillian pretended to believe that nonsense. Ramsey was the reason Bridgid was brokenhearted. She shifted her weight to ease the throbbing in her thigh and closed her eyes. She fell asleep accepting that Bridgid was right. Men were stupid.

Chapter Thirty-One

The first golden streaks of dawn were bursting onto the horizon when Brodick nudged Gillian awake. She had slept in his arms, though she had no memory of being moved during the night, and she was so sleepy she didn't want to cooperate. Snuggling under the blanket, she groaned, "Not yet," and went back to sleep.

Bridgid had also been moved to a plaid blanket closer to the fire. Another plaid covered her, and when Ramsey squatted down next to her and saw how peaceful she was, he regretted having to wake her. She really was lovely, he thought, noticing for the first time how long her eyelashes were and how pure her complexion was. Her lips were full, rosy, and without a thought as to what he was doing, he brushed his thumb across her lower lip.

She batted his hand away as though he were a pest and grumbled something in her sleep he couldn't quite make out, but he was sure he heard the word "stupid."

"Open your eyes, Bridgid. It's time to get going."

She didn't wake up happy. "Do leave me alone," she mumbled.

Brodick stood over Gillian, wondering why the hell she wouldn't obey him, and once again ordered her to get up.

"Maybe we ought to throw them in the creek," Ramsey suggested. "That will wake them up."

Bridgid took the threat to heart and sat up. Shocked to find Ramsey so close to her, she leaned back on her elbows to put some distance between them. She knew she looked a sight. Her hair hung down over her eyes, and she squinted up at him, wondering how he could look so incredibly… perfect… at this ungodly hour of the morning.

Brodick pulled Gillian to her feet but didn't let go of her until he was certain she could walk. Her leg stung with each movement, but she suffered in silence, knowing that if she gave a single complaint, she'd hear another blistering lecture about her reckless behavior.



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