“I would be honored to sit at your table,” Leila whispered. Her voice shook with emotion.
“I must go inside now and take my turn sitting with Clare. I’ll see you tonight, Leila.”
Johanna hurried upstairs and went directly to Clare’s chamber. She dismissed Megan from her task of watching over the woman and sat down to talk to her.
“Did you climb the stairs without assistance, m’lady?” Megan demanded to know.
“Of course,” Johanna answered, surprised by the censure in Megan’s tone.
“You could fall,” Megan countered. “You shouldn’t be taking such chances.”
“Megan, I have enough people fretting over me. ’Tis the truth I’ll go daft if I’m followed around day and night. I held onto the railing,” she added when Megan looked ready to protest.
“Are you ill, Lady Johanna?” Clare asked.
“She’s carrying, like you,” Megan blurted out. She nodded, then closed the door behind her.
“Congratulations, m’lady. I hope you give your husband a sound boy.”
Clare struggled to sit up in bed. Johanna tucked the covers around the woman before taking her seat again.
“A girl will be just as pleasing,” she remarked.
Clare shook her head. “I wouldn’t want a girl. Boys have far more advantages, but girls are only used for barter. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes,” Johanna agreed. She folded her hands in her lap and smiled at the MacKay woman.
Clare was frowning at her. “Then why would you want one? You’ll have the worry your husband will give her in marriage to some evil man, and she’ll spend the rest of her life . . .”
Clare nodded. “And hurt,” she whispered.
“My husband would not deliberately give his daughter to a monster,” she said. “Did your father know MacInnes was cruel-hearted?”
Clare shrugged. “He only cared about uniting the two clans.”
Johanna was disheartened to hear that news. “Does your father love you?”
“As much as any father would love a daughter,” she replied.
“Girls are more clever.” Johanna said. “Even Father MacKechnie believes this to be true.”
“They can still be beaten and humiliated. You don’t realize how fortunate you are, Lady Johanna. Your husband treats you well.”
Johanna leaned back in her chair. “I wouldn’t stay here if he didn’t treat me well.”
Clare didn’t look like she believed Johanna. “How could you leave?” she asked.
“I would find a way,” Johanna explained. “Clare, when I was married before, to an Englishman, I would pray every night I wouldn’t conceive. I didn’t want to give him a girl because I knew he would mistreat her whenever he felt inclined to vent his anger, and I didn’t want to give him a boy because I knew he would be taken away from me and raised in his father’s image. I didn’t want such foul attitudes about women to be passed down, you see.”
“Were you beaten?”
“How did the Englishman die? Did you kill him?”
Johanna was surprised by the question. She shook her head. “There were times I wanted to kill him, and I’ll surely burn in hell for admitting such a sin of contemplation, but I didn’t give in to my anger. I didn’t want to be like him, Clare. I felt trapped, yes, and then I realized I was intelligent enough to find a way to leave.”
“How did he die?”
“I was told by King John he fell from a cliff near the city on the waters. I didn’t even know he’d left England.”
Clare nodded. Johanna decided to turn the topic. “Glynis will be here in a few minutes with her scissors. She’ll try to repair your hair.”
“When will my father get here?”
“We expect him this afternoon.”
“I don’t want my hair repaired. It used to be as long as yours until they butchered it. I want my father to see what the Maclnnes men did to his daughter.”
“What about your mother?”
“She’s dead,” Clare answered. “Four years now. I’m glad she isn’t here now. It would break her heart to see me like this.”
“The baby you’re carrying . . . will your father ...”
“I’m very weary now, m’lady. I would like to rest.”
Johanna stared at Clare a long while. The MacKay woman closed her eyes. She was feigning sleep.
“Clare, you can’t keep this up much longer,” Johanna said. “You’re going to have to talk about what happened.”
“I’m in pain, Johanna. Have you no mercy?”
Johanna nodded. “I know you ache.”
“Then please . . .”
“Clare,” Johanna interrupted. “My husband is most anxious for you to tell him who the MacBain soldier—”
“I will not name the man.”
Clare burst into tears. Johanna reached out to take hold of her hand.
“It’s going to be all right,” she whispered. “You don’t have to be afraid.”
“You told me you felt trapped, and I felt the same way. I couldn’t marry the bastard. I couldn’t. I did something I wish now . . .”
Clare shook her head. “It doesn’t matter,” she whispered. “I’ll be found out soon enough. Please let me rest now. I’m not strong enough to talk about what happened.”
Johanna gave in. Glynis pounded on the door and then walked inside. She carried a brush and her scissors in her hand.
“I’m ready to see what I can do,” she announced. Johanna stood up. “Clare isn’t up to having her hair fussed over.”
“Do you mean all the trouble I went to searching out these scissors was for nothing, m’lady?”
“Actually no, Glynis. I could do with your services. I’ve been wanting to cut my hair for quite some time. Come along to my bedroom and you can use your scissors on me.”
Glynis perked up. Her errand hadn’t been in vain after all. She and Johanna got into an argument about the length to be trimmed, however. Glynis didn’t want to cut so much away, but her mistress was emphatic.
Johanna’s hair barely reached her shoulders when Glynis was finished.
“I’ll admit you look fetching, m’lady.”
“I didn’t realize it would be so curly.”
“The weight kept the curls out,” Glynis explained.
“The weight gave me a fair-sized headache every day,” Johanna added. “Thank you so much, Glynis.” She threaded her fingers through her hair and laughed. “I’m not so certain how it looks, but it feels wonderful.”
“Will the MacBain throw a fit when he sees what I’ve done?”
Johanna could tell from Glynis’s smile she was jesting with her question.
“I doubt he’ll even notice.”
“He’ll notice, all right. He notices everything about you. We all smile over the way he stares at you. He holds affection for you, m’lady.”
“I pray he’ll continue to feel affection for me tonight. He’s sure to become irritated when I join him at the dinner table. ’Tis the truth everyone’s going to be rattled by the surprise I’ve decided upon.”
Glynis’s curiosity was captured, of course. “What do you have planned?”
“I can’t tell you,” Johanna replied. “You’ll have to wait and see.”
Glynis nagged her mistress for several more minutes before giving up. “Will you be going downstairs? I’ll take hold of your arm and make certain you don’t fall on the steps.”
“I’m going to stay here,” she replied. “Would you mind if I borrowed your scissors? I’ll return them to you this evening.”
“Keep them here,” Glynis said. “When Clare’s wanting her hair trimmed, I’ll know where to look. Good day to you, m’lady.”
Glynis was just reaching for the door latch when Johanna stopped her with a question.”
“Do all women have the same symptoms when they’re carrying?”
Glynis turned around. “Most do,” she answered. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering,” Johanna answered. “When does a woman start showing?”
“Depends,” Glynis replied. “Some show by the fourth month, others wait another month for their middles to fatten. You should be starting to lose your waist,” she added. “Are you?”
“I am,” Johanna said.
She thanked Glynis again. As soon as the door closed behind the woman, Johanna began work on her surprise. She spread the MacBain plaid lengthwise over the bed and cut it down the middle. She made the same long cut in the Maclaurin plaid. Then she sat down on the bed with the two halves and sewed them together. When she was finished, it was impossible to tell where the MacBain plaid ended and the Maclaurin plaid began.
Keith would probably have to take to his bed for a week when he saw what she’d done. Johanna knew she was going to cause an uproar. She didn’t care. It was high time everyone put his differences aside and joined together to form one clan under Gabriel’s leadership.
She probably should tell her husband what she was going to do. Johanna folded the leftover strips and put them under the bed. She hid the new plaid she’d sewn together there, too. She wouldn’t put the garment on until dinner.
She was yawning by the time she’d completed her task. She needed a nap. She took off her plaid, draped it over the chair with her belt, and then stretched out on the bed. She would only rest a minute or two.
Johanna fell asleep thinking about Clare MacKay. The woman had started to tell her something she’d done, then changed her mind. She’d looked terribly frightened.
She was certainly a puzzle. What had she meant when she’d said in time she would be found out?
Johanna slept for three hours. She opened her eyes and found Alex sound asleep beside her. Her son was drooling all over her arm. He was obviously a sound sleeper, a trait she hoped his little brother or sister would share.
She slowly sat up so she wouldn’t disturb Alex and almost burst into laughter when she spotted Dumfries sound asleep at the foot of the bed.
She couldn’t order the dog down without waking Alex. She scooted out of bed, washed, and then got dressed in the MacBain plaid again. Waves of nausea made the simple task seem to take forever. Johanna had to sit down several times to wait until the sickness passed.
Gabriel opened the door just as she was tightening her belt around her waist. He saw that his son was still sleeping and motioned with the crook of his finger for Johanna to join him in the hall.
He was staring at her hair, or so she believed, and frowning with obvious displeasure.
He would eventually get over his irritation, she decided. She hurried across the chamber, a smile on her face, and went out into the corridor. Gabriel pulled the door closed and turned to her.
“You’re too damned pale,” he muttered.
“And that is why you’re frowning, m’lord?”
He nodded. She pinched her cheeks to gain some color. “Have you perchance noticed anything else?”
“Clare’s father was spotted coming up the ridge.”
She forgot all about trying to gain a compliment over her haircut when Gabriel gave her his news.
“I want you and Alex to stay inside our chamber until Laird MacKay and his men have left.”
“How many soldiers ride with the laird?”
He shrugged. “Enough,” he answered.
Gabriel was just turning away when she shook her head at him. “I wish to speak to Clare’s father,” she announced.
“He won’t be in the mood to be polite, Johanna. Do as I order.”
“The laird’s angry with the Maclnnes clan, not us,” she reminded him.
“Nay,” he said. “His fury is fully directed on all the MacBains. He blames us for his daughter’s disgrace.”
Johanna’s complexion underwent a radical change. She wasn’t pale now. In the space of a heartbeat, her face had turned red with anger.
She didn’t ask her husband how he’d gained his information. If he said the Laird MacKay blamed them, then it must be true. Gabriel wasn’t one to jump to conclusions without first gaining all the facts.
“Who is sitting with Clare now?”
“Hilda,” he answered. “Go back inside,” he ordered. “I don’t want any of the MacKay’s anger near you.”
She didn’t agree or disagree with her husband’s command. He assumed she was going to be cooperative. She did go back inside her chamber, but only for a minute or two, until she was certain her husband had gone back downstairs to wait for Clare’s father. Then she hurried down the hallway to Clare’s room. She sent Hilda to sit with Alex.
“Your father’s going to be here in just a few minutes, Clare. Do you want to see him alone, or do you want me to stay with you?”
Clare struggled to sit up in bed. She let out a little whimper of distress. Johanna wasn’t certain if the movement caused her pain or if the announcement was the reason. The fear on Clare’s face was aching to see.
“Please stay,” she said.
Johanna straightened the blankets around the bed, more to cover her own nervousness than to make Clare comfortable.
“I don’t know what to say to him.”
“Just tell him what happened,” Johanna advised.
Tears gathered in Clare’s eyes. “I can’t,” she cried out.
The truth hit Johanna all at once. It was a blessing she was standing next to the chair. She was able to sit down before she fell.
“You don’t understand, Johanna.”
“Oh, Lord, I think I do understand. You made it all up, didn’t you? There wasn’t any MacBain . . . you aren’t carrying . . .”
Clare started crying. She shook her head, trying to deny Johanna’s accusation. The fear in her eyes made a mockery of her attempt to cling to her lie, however.
“You’re wrong,” she protested.
“Am I?” Johanna asked. “Every time one of us tried to ask you questions, you feigned weariness.”
Clare didn’t give Johanna time to continue. “I was weary,” she defended.
Johanna could feel Clare’s panic. She wanted to comfort her. She didn’t, though. Instead she tried to be heartless to her pain, for she was determined to get to the truth. Only then could she help Clare.