“To Gabrielle, ‘as you say’ means that she doesn’t agree and will do the complete opposite. She thinks to placate Colm with those words, but we have all caught on to her real meaning.”

Brodick nodded. “‘Yes’ means ‘no,’ and ‘no’ means ‘yes’?” He pounded Colm on the shoulder. “At least she tried to placate you. My wife doesn’t pay any attention to what I say.”

Brodick didn’t seem to be bothered by his wife’s willfulness. In fact, he looked pleased by it.

“Laird MacHugh, do you want me to go outside and have a word with the envoy?” Gelroy asked.

“You will stay here,” Colm ordered.

“But when I do face him, will you tell me what I am to say?”

“You will tell the truth,” Colm said, “but you won’t mention when the ceremony took place.”

The laird’s frown still had the power to make Gelroy shake in his boots. He tried not to let it show as he waited for his next instruction.

Liam insisted upon a toast. He ran to the buttery and returned with a jug of wine. Pouring each of them a full goblet, he wished the couple a long and happy life. “And as you say, Gabrielle, to a perfect marriage,” he teased.

Gabrielle was puzzled. A perfect marriage? Had she said something about their marriage being perfect?

“Colm, did I promise that when I spoke my vows?” she asked. “If I did, I am very sorry. Our marriage will not be perfect, and I cannot promise there will be no trouble. Look at the deception I have caused on this our wedding day. I didn’t lie to the envoy, but I did mislead him. And I corrupted your clan as well, for I made them complicit in my deception. Do you not wonder what I will do tomorrow?”

Had she expected Colm to be sympathetic to her distress, she was mistaken. He thought her guilt amusing.

“Deceit? Trouble? You have already become a MacHugh,” he laughed.

He kissed her again and then grew serious. “You will tell me now what wedding gifts you want from me. On this your wedding day, I will refuse you nothing.”

She didn’t have to think about it long. “I would like you to build Father Gelroy his chapel and pledge to have it finished by this time next year. He will need it to have a fine altar and sturdy benches.”

Gelroy was overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness and generosity. Colm didn’t seem at all surprised. “It will be done. What else would you like?”

Again there was no hesitation. “Tradition is important to me,” she said. “And so I would like you to give me the same gift my father gave my mother.”

He waited for her to tell him what it was, but she didn’t say another word.

“When am I to know what this gift is?” he urged.

“Eventually.”

The envoy was waiting with the bishop for Gabrielle to return. His face whitened when he saw Colm striding toward him.

“Lady MacHugh has told me you require proof that she is my wife. She did tell you we were married, did she not?”

“Yes, Laird…that is, Laird, another did suggest the possibility that perhaps—”

“Do you know how fortunate you are to still be standing? You should be dead, for you have insinuated that my wife lied to you. Is that so?”

“No, no, I didn’t think so. Another did perhaps think that—”

“My wife does not lie.” His voice had turned deadly.

“Yes, Laird. She speaks only the truth.”

Gabrielle moved closer to Colm. She stared at the envoy and no one else. She didn’t know if Joan was still in the crowd watching, but she hoped she had left and wouldn’t cause any more trouble.

Father Gelroy stepped forward. “I know for a fact that Laird MacHugh and Lady MacHugh are married. I am the priest who administered the holy sacrament. I heard them speak their vows to each other, and I blessed their union.” With a dramatic gesture to the sky, he said, “May a bolt of lightning strike me down this very second if I am lying.”

He raised his eyes to heaven and waited, then nodding said, “God knows I am telling the truth, and so should you.”

The bishop wanted to get back to the abbey before nightfall so he could sleep in his own bed instead of the hard ground. “I will testify that Father Gelroy speaks the truth. This issue should now be settled to everyone’s satisfaction.”

The envoy was convinced. “I am satisfied. Because of this marriage, you now have Finney’s Flat, Laird MacHugh.”

“Our laird also has the treasure of St. Biel,” Gelroy said, smiling with relief at Gabrielle. The priest did not think he needed to explain his meaning. Everyone who looked at Gabrielle could see what a treasure she was.

Gabrielle blushed at the priest’s compliment. “I think not, Father. My husband will have to be content with the land, for he will not get a treasure.”

“As soon as possible,” said the envoy, “I will have heralds sent to each clan to announce that Princess Gabrielle has been proven innocent of the accusations made against her, that your marriage is valid, and that Finney’s Flat is now yours.”

“You have the power to proclaim this?” Gelroy asked.

“I do.”

A few minutes later the envoy and the bishop took their leave, and Gabrielle was never so happy to see anyone go. Now she could relax. Or so she thought.

One worry left, and another arrived. This was her wedding night.

The MacHugh clan was slow to disperse. They had much to celebrate. Their laird had returned victorious over their enemies, the MacKennas; their holdings now included Finney’s Flat; and their beloved laird had taken a wife. As Father Gelroy reminded them, they were truly blessed. With dusk approaching, the festivities began to die down. The tables and benches were returned to the castle, and the people made their way to their cottages weary, but happy.

Liam and Colm walked with Brodick to the stables, as it was time that Brodick headed home as well.

“You are not through with the MacKennas,” Brodick warned. “For every one you have killed, another will step forward. They multiply like rats. They’ll soon have a new laird, and I wager he will be as much a bastard as Owen was. I hope he did not die well.”

“No, he did not,” Colm said quietly.

“You are our ally, Brodick,” Liam reminded him. “They will come after you, too.”

“I look forward to it,” he said.

The stable boy lead Brodick’s horse to him. “Your debt is paid,” he told Colm, “but now I think you owe another one.”

“What would that debt be?”

“I gave you Gabrielle.”

“You forced her on me,” Colm said drily. “And I am grateful.”

“There is an easy way to repay me.”

“What might that be?”

“Give one of your daughters to one of my sons in marriage.”

“The church will not allow it,” Liam said. “You are related to Gabrielle.”

“Only by marriage. My wife’s uncle is not a blood relative. The arranged union would be valid, and your daughter would come to my son with a fat dowry.”

Colm laughed. “Let me guess. Finney’s Flat.”

“Aye, Finney’s Flat.”

“Your plan is contingent upon my wife giving me daughters and your wife giving you sons.”

“It will come to pass,” Brodick said. “Though I will be ahead of you, for my Gillian is already with child, and you can’t bed Gabrielle for what? Five months?”

“I had thought to wait that long, but—”

“Thought to? What of her reputation?”

“Word will spread of her innocence, and if the Englishman was telling the truth, a proclamation will be made.”

“And you think that will happen quickly?” Brodick asked. “Colm, you did give her six months.”

Resignedly, Colm answered, “If that is what Gabrielle wants, I will acquiesce.”

Brodick and Liam laughed.

“You think you can last that long? She is nearly as pretty as my wife,” Brodick said.

“Of course I can wait. I have more discipline than either of you.”

Colm headed back to the castle. Liam and Brodick watched him walk away.

“What do you think?” Brodick asked.

“My brother is strong-willed and disciplined. I’d give him at least one night before he changes his mind.”

“I’d give him one hour.”

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

T HE WAIT WAS AGONIZING. IT SEEMED TO GABRIELLE THAT half the night had already passed since she had bathed and washed her hair. The tub had been removed from her room, the covers on her bed had been turned back, and two more logs had been added to the fire.

Every minute felt like an hour, but her hair was still dripping wet so she knew it couldn’t have been all that long since she had washed it. Still, it seemed an eternity.

Gabrielle wore her white sleeping gown—a fine gossamer fabric adorned with gold and silver threads sewn into the neckline. She had wanted to wear her blue gown, but there were too many wrinkles in it from the packing. She smoothed a crease from the gown and sat in front of the hearth to brush her hair by the fire. The room was warm and cozy, and after such a long and frantic day, she should have been exhausted. But she wasn’t. She was wide awake and in a near panic.

Where was he?

He had said he couldn’t wait to have her. True, the wedding had happened sooner than he had expected, but they were married now. He hadn’t changed his mind, had he?

Every sound made her stomach flutter in anticipation and fear. As she continued brushing her hair, she tried to think about less worrisome things. The weather had been nice today, and the meat pie she ate for dinner was quite flavorful.

What was taking him so long? Were the demands of the clan so much more important than her, even now on this, their wedding night?

Oh, how she wanted to get this over and done with. She had been told enough about the physical act between a man and a woman to be both curious and frightened.

She decided to compare it to her dislocated finger. When she was nine years old, Gabrielle had fallen from a stone wall she’d been climbing. Her little finger made an odd popping sound and was bent in a bizarre direction. It hurt like it had been stung by a nest of hornets, but her father had known just what to do. While Stephen held her still, her father popped the finger back into place, and the hurt immediately went away. She had known what was going to happen and had dreaded it, but once it was finished, she didn’t have to worry about it any longer.

As far as she was concerned, the marriage act was much like that: dread, pain, forgotten.

When her arm began to ache, she put her brush down. The curl was back in her hair, and the long strands were just a little damp now. She stared at the floor and tried to concentrate on something pleasant. Some of the water from her bath had spilled over the tub. She had helped mop it up, but there were still damp spots on the floor. She stared at them as they slowly faded away.

Had Colm forgotten her?

Think only pleasant thoughts, she reminded herself. There was absolutely no need to get worked up.

Colm had been pleased with her gift of salt, and surprised. Gabrielle suddenly realized she had forgotten to tell him that more would be coming, and by next year he would have more than enough to last his clan a good long time. He’d have extra, too, that could be bartered for seed or anything else the clan needed.

Was she so unimportant to him?

Gabrielle felt herself becoming emotional. Maybe Colm was only being kind when he’d told her he wanted her. And she had just thrown herself at him. But no, he wouldn’t have done that, she decided. Colm was blunt and brutally honest. He wouldn’t lie just to be kind. He didn’t take much time to think about a woman’s feelings. She doubted he’d ever given them a thought.

Tears came into her eyes, and she knew that if she didn’t do something about them, she would soon break down. Gabrielle rarely cried, but when she did, it took a long time for her to stop. She would drag out every last pain and heartache she had ever endured and weep over each one. Since leaving Wellingshire, her list of heartaches had grown considerably, and she estimated she would have to cry for a good week to get through them all.

Concentrating on pleasant matters wasn’t working. She needed to get angry.

How dare Colm treat her this way. She sighed then because it wasn’t working. The man had given her his name and his protection, and he had asked for nothing in return. No, she couldn’t summon up much anger at all. Granted, it was rude of him to make her wait, but not cruel.

She moved on to the king’s envoy. He had put her through Purgatory with his scroll and his suspicion. Still, he was only doing King John’s bidding, and, in truth, he was an affable fellow. She couldn’t blame the messenger or despise him for repeating the words he had been given.

Joan. What a shrew that woman was! She had such a contemptuous look on her face when she had challenged Gabrielle. Did she think that all she had to do was announce that she was going to marry Colm, and it would come to pass? Had she expected Gabrielle to wilt in front of her? Or cower? How dare she! Aye, she was a shrew and a hateful troublemaker as well.

There weren’t any tears in Gabrielle’s eyes now. If Joan were to walk into her room this minute, Gabrielle just might pick up her brush and pummel her with it. Picturing this made Gabrielle smile.

There. She was feeling ever so much better.

Footsteps sounded in the hall.

Colm. Oh God, he was finally coming to her.

She jumped up, then sat down, and jumped up again. Should she stand by the fire, or should she sit on the side of the bed? Did he expect her to be under the covers?

She decided to wait by the hearth. She also decided that it was important for her to remember to breathe. She was getting dizzy holding her breath.

Dread…pain…forgotten.

Colm knocked on the door, waited a second, then opened it and walked inside. He went completely still when he saw her.

She was a vision. The soft light from the embers behind her had turned her gown translucent. He could see the perfect shape of her body. Every curve was cast in a golden hue: her full breasts, her narrow waist, her shapely hips, her long legs. She was perfection, and more enticing to him than if she had been standing there wearing nothing at all.

He wasn’t going to be leaving her this night or any other.

Gabrielle’s hands were at her sides, and she stared into his eyes.

She knew this man.

Why was she so afraid? He would never hurt her. Dread drifted away. Aye, she knew him well.



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