Her brother shook his head. “I should have known,” he said. “I should have protected you.”

She tilted her head to look up at him. “That’s why you married Clare, isn’t it? You were protecting her.”

“Someone had to,” he admitted.

Johanna smiled. She decided the reasons why her brother married Clare weren’t important. What mattered was their future together. Clare, Johanna believed, would eventually fall in love with Nicholas. He was such a good, kind-hearted man. Clare would realize her good fortune in time. And Nicholas would also grow to love her. Clare was a sweet woman. Aye, Johanna decided. It was going to be a sound marriage.

Gabriel was staring at her. Laird MacKay was standing by his side and waving his hands in agitation as he talked to Johanna’s husband. Every now and then Gabriel would shake his head.

“I wonder what has Laird MacKay upset,” Johanna remarked.

“He’s probably wanting to raid the castle before they let the Gillevrey laird out of the cellar,” Nicholas replied.

Johanna couldn’t take her gaze off her husband. He was taking forever to come to her. Didn’t he realize how much she needed his comfort?

“Why is Gabriel ignoring me?” she asked her brother.

“I can’t read his thoughts,” Nicholas replied. “I would guess he’s trying to calm down before he talks to you. You gave him one hell of a scare. You’d best get a good apology ready. I’d try to look humble,” he advised.

“I can’t imagine why he would want an apology.”

Keith stepped forward to answer. “You didn’t stay where you were put, m’lady.”

Nicholas tried not to laugh. He could tell from his sister’s expression she didn’t like hearing his explanation. If looks could do injury, Keith would now be writhing on the floor in acute pain.

Johanna straightened away from her brother. “I did what was necessary,” she told Keith.

“What you thought was necessary,” Nicholas corrected.

From across the room Gabriel nodded. Johanna knew then he was listening to their discussion.

In a much louder tone of voice she said, “I was protecting my clan by leaving.”

“Each one of us would die to protect the others.”

Calum interjected the remark. He was smiling at Johanna while he repeated her very words back to her. He had obviously been hiding in one of the opened doorways on the balcony during her confrontation with Raulf.

“How much did you hear?” she asked.

“All of it,” Calum answered.

Keith nodded. “We keep good companions,” he said. “We all understood your lesson, m’lady.”

Johanna started blushing. Nicholas thought the soldiers’ obvious adoration for their mistress might be the cause of her embarrassment. Both Keith and Calum looked as though they might kneel down in front of her at any moment to pay her homage.

“You made us very proud, m’lady,” Calum whispered in a voice that shook with emotion.

Her blush intensified. If they continued with their praise, she knew she would start weeping, and then they would surely become embarrassed. She couldn’t let that happen. She hurried to change the topic. She glanced up at the balcony, then turned to Keith. “It’s a straight drop from the windows to the ground,” she began. “How in heaven’s name did you ever get inside?”

Keith laughed. “I cannot believe you’re asking me that question,” he said.

“I am asking you,” she countered, wondering what he found so amusing. “Please explain. How did you get inside?”

“Lady Johanna, there is always more than one way into a keep.”

She burst into laughter. The sound was filled with such joy, Gabriel’s entire body reacted. His throat tightened up, his heart started slamming a furious beat, and he found it damned difficult to take a deep breath. He knew that if he didn’t take her into his arms soon, he would surely go out of his mind. He wanted privacy, because once he started touching her, he wasn’t going to be able to stop.

Dear God, how he loved her.

He started to go to her and then forced himself to stop. By God, she would realize the hell she had put him through first, he thought to himself. Why, she had taken a good twenty years off his life. When his men had chased him down and told him she was in the hands of Baron Raulf, terror such as Gabriel had never known before filled his mind, his heart, and his soul. He was certain he’d died a thousand deaths on his way to the Gillevrey holding. Another scare like that would put him in his grave. Only after he had gained her promise never to take such chances again would he let her comfort him.

Gabriel asked MacKay to go downstairs and let the laird out of his prison and then turned to Johanna.

“MacBain’s wanting your attention, Johanna,” Nicholas whispered.

She looked at her husband. He nodded to her and then ordered her to come to him by crooking his finger at her.

The look on his face told her she was about to catch hell. She didn’t want to waste time listening to him rant and rave about the danger she’d placed herself in. It was finished now and she was safe. That was all that mattered. Besides, she wanted to be comforted, and she’d waited long enough. She was out of patience and in desperate need of her husband’s touch.

The only way she was going to get what she wanted was to catch her husband off guard and nudge him into forgetting his bluster.

She took a step toward Gabriel and then stopped. She forced a frown while she folded her arms in front of her chest.

She hoped she looked displeased.

Gabriel was astonished by her behavior. “Johanna?”

The uncertainty in his voice made her want to smile. She didn’t dare, of course, because she wanted to soothe his temper, not prod it.

“Yes, Gabriel?”

“Come here.”

“In a moment, m’lord,” she answered in a voice as serene as a sweet summer breeze. “First I would like to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“Does the expression ‘in the nick of time’ mean anything to you?”

He wanted to smile but glared instead. He knew what she was doing. She thought to make him feel guilty because he hadn’t gotten to her sooner.

He wasn’t going to let her turn the tables on him. If anyone was going to apologize, by God, it would be his stubborn, ill-disciplined wife.

He shook his head at her, took another step forward, and then announced, “It’s going to take you a lifetime to soothe my temper.”

She didn’t want to contradict her husband, but she was certain it would only take her a minute or two. She walked forward to stand directly in front of him.

She clasped her hands together and smiled. She stared up at him with those beautiful, bewitching blue eyes, and Gabriel knew then there wouldn’t be any talk about safety tonight.

“Will it take you a lifetime to get around to telling your wife you love her?”

She reached up and gently stroked the side of his face. Her voice was filled with tenderness when she said, “I love you, Gabriel MacBain.”

His voice shook when he answered with his own pledge. “Not nearly as much as I love you, Johanna MacBain.”

And then she was in his arms and he was kissing her and hugging her and telling her in broken whispers how much he loved her and how he knew he was damned unworthy of her but it didn’t matter because he would never let her go and how she had become the center of his life.

He was rambling, but he didn’t care. Some of what he said made sense, most didn’t. It didn’t matter to her. She was crying and also rambling with all the loving words she’d kept protected inside her.

Their kisses became passionate, and when he finally pulled away, she was trembling. He let go of her, but only for a second, then caught hold of her hand and walked out of the hall. She was blushing and kept her head bowed when they passed her brother and her clansmen. Gabriel slowed his pace when he led the way up the steps so Johanna could keep up with him, then threaded his way through the throng of men standing on the balcony until he reached the first chamber. He pulled his wife inside, shut the door, and then reached for her again.

Clothing became an obstacle. Gabriel didn’t want to quit kissing her long enough to get undressed, and so he tried to do both at the same time.

They made it to the bed, though just barely, and made love with an intensity that left them both shaken. He was gentle; she was demanding, and each was eventually thoroughly satisfied.

He stayed inside her a long while afterward. He covered her from head to feet and braced himself on his elbows to keep from crushing her. He kissed her brow, the bridge of her nose, and finally her chin.

She let out a loud, lusty yawn. Gabriel rolled to his side. He covered her with his plaid and pulled her into his arms.

“You should sleep now,” he whispered.

“I’m not weak, Gabriel.”

He smiled in the darkness. “No, you’re not weak,” he agreed. “You’re strong and courageous and honorable.” He leaned down to kiss the top of her head before adding, “But you’re carrying, my love. You must rest for the baby’s sake. Alex and I would be lost without you. You’re the center of our family, Johanna. I’ve known that truth for a long while. I think that is why. I was a bit overprotective. I wanted to keep you under lock and key so nothing would happen to you.”

There was a hint of laughter in her voice when she responded. “You let me sew.”

“Tell me again you love me. I like hearing your pledge.”

She cuddled up against her husband. “I love you,” she whispered. “Almost from the very beginning. My heart softened toward you the day we met.”

“Nay, it didn’t,” he countered. “You were afraid of me.”

“Until you gave me your promise,” she corrected.

“What promise did I give?”

“You wouldn’t bite.”

“You were still frightened.”

“Perhaps, just a little,” she agreed. “But then God gave me a sign and I knew everything was going to be all right.”

He was intrigued. “Explain this sign,” he commanded. “You’ll laugh.”

“I won’t.”

“It was your name,” she whispered. “I hadn’t heard it before the wedding ceremony. Nicholas called you MacBain, and so did your men. But you had to give your true name to the priest, and that is when I knew I was going to be safe.”

He broke his promise and laughed. She didn’t mind. She waited until he’d finished and then said, “You were named after the highest of angels,” she explained. “Mama taught me to pray to the archangel Gabriel,” she added. “And do you know why?”

“Nay, love. I don’t know why.”

“Because he’s the protector of the innocent, the avenger of evil. He watches over women and children and is our own special guardian.”

“If that is truth and not fanciful thinking, then he didn’t do a very good job of looking out for you,” Gabriel said. He thought about the years she’d endured hardship under Raulf’s control and immediately started to get angry again.

“Oh, but my archangel did protect me,” she said.

“How?” Gabriel demanded.

“He gave me you.”

She stretched up and kissed his chin. “It doesn’t matter if you understand or if you think I’m crazed, Gabriel. Just love me.”

“I do, lass. I do. Have you any idea how proud I was when I heard the praise you gave me tonight?”

“Do you mean when you were on the balcony?”

“Yes.”

“Raulf needed to know the truth,” she said. “He had no understanding of what true love is,” she added. She leaned up again to smile at her husband. “I know when you realized you loved me,” she boasted. “It was when you found me in the tree and saw the wolves.”

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “It was long before that god-awful incident.”

She badgered him to explain. “It was your immediate acceptance of Alex. When he asked you if I had given you a wedding gift, do you remember what you said? I remember every word,” he added before she even had time to nod. “You said, ‘He gave me a son.’ And that is when my heart softened toward you. It just took me a little while to realize it.”

The mention of their son made her frown. “Alex is certainly fretting. I want to go home . . . with you. I don’t want you to go to England.”

“I won’t have to,” he said. “Williams will give King John my message.”

“What will he tell him?”

“To leave us alone.”

“Did you tell Williams about the scroll I hid in the chapel?”

“No.”

His denial surprised her. “But I thought . . .”

“Raulfs dead,” Gabriel explained. “The king doesn’t have any reason to bother us now. If he should decide to send additional troops here for whatever reason, then we’ll mention the damning evidence.”

Johanna thought about her husband’s explanation a long while before finally coming to the conclusion he was right. The king didn’t need to know she had kept the scroll. “You want him to think it’s over.”

“I do.”

“Will anyone ever know the truth about Arthur?”

“Most of the barons already believe the king was behind the murder,” Gabriel said. “Even Nicholas has his own suspicions. He has another reason for turning against his overlord.”

“What other reason?”

“John betrayed his trust. He gave Nicholas his word he was only sending a messenger and escort, and he assured your brother Raulf would be kept in London.”

“He lied.”

“Yes.”

“What will Nicholas do?”

“He’ll join Baron Goode and the others.”

“Rebellion?”

He could hear the worry in her voice. “No,” he answered. “But a king without loyal vassals and an army has little power. Nicholas told me the barons plan to force John to make necessary concessions. Do you know why Nicholas gave you to me?”

She smiled over his choice of words. “He didn’t give me to you,” she whispered. “He was merely matchmaking.”

“He was in love with you.”

She didn’t understand what he was telling her. “He’s my brother. Of course he loves me.”



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