"Where is that woman?" Margaret exclaimed. "I called for her a quarter hour past." Chafing her arms, James's sister glared once again at the open balcony door. "Well," she announced, "you two may insist on taking a chill, but the premature cooling of this fine tea would vex a lesser woman."
Margaret had been bustling about since their return to Montrose, and Magda had been more than happy to let herself get swept along by all the commotion. They would stay but one more night before they had to leave, gathering the supplies necessary to be in disguise and on the run once again. In search of additional blankets, Margaret had led her to the same dusty storage room whose trunks Magda had so thoroughly rifled through. In a moment of whimsy, she dashed off a little something to store with James's portrait. Careful not to touch it, she laid a slip of paper atop the painting with the note: " Property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
"We know well it is the rare concern that makes you peevish, Margaret." A mannered smile spread across James's face, which Margaret only greeted with a sisterly glare.
Though returned home, James still wore only a tartan and shirt. He'd simply smiled when Margaret gently hinted that he should dress like her husband Napier and don proper trews. And, looking at him now over the lip of her teacup, Magda grinned and thought she never would've guessed that a man could look so sexy walking around in what basically amounted to a skirt.
But James was nothing if not sexy. His skin glowed from so much time outdoors, setting off the smoldering cocoa color of his eyes. His nose was recovering from the break. It had been on the large side to begin with, and the injury left a small bump on the length of it, an appealing imperfection on his otherwise gorgeous face.
"Dear sister," he added, "don't you know, the sea air is good for the soul."
"I can see it through the window." She stood from her seat. "I don't know where that woman has got to. It seems I'll have to find my own shawl," Margaret muttered as she bustled from the room.
In deciding to stay, Magda had freed herself to experience fully how much James meant to her. Although his handsomeness did indeed make her knees buckle, she thought she'd burst from the love she felt for him. She'd contemplated his portrait and the exit it offered, and had come close to leaving him forever. But the instant she heard of his capture, she realized that she couldn't turn her back on him: if there were something she could do to save him, then that could be her only choice. And then Magda had seen him, and though he'd been bound and subjected to such humiliations, he was ever gallant and noble to the last, and she knew at once that she'd made the right decision.
James shot her a look at his sister's exit, and Magda gave him a quiet smile. She set her tea down, and knitting her brows, stared out toward the sea.
"Still not convinced, are you hen?" Parliament's red-coated soldiers would be on the lookout for them now, and they needed to find a safe haven in which to disappear. Though Magda battled her own panic, James had been calmly reassuring her over and over again that they'd be safe once ensconced in a cottage on one of the Western Isles. "You know I will keep you safe."
"It's not me so much that I worry about," she said. Her eyes ran over the length of him. James could don the crudest of disguises, yet there would be no way to hide his audacity, his nobility, his courage. It shone in his eyes, and was clear in the way he spoke and the manner in which he carried himself. "You're pretty recognizable."
Though, she thought, one good thing about the seventeenth century was that no phones or cameras meant a person really could simply disappear into thin air.
"Aye, and that is why we leave tomorrow," he agreed. "Charles courts the Scottish from his hideaway on the Isle of Man, and I too shall have to be satisfied pursuing my political intrigues from afar."
"Don't joke," Magda said. "You told me they want to execute the king for treason. If Campbell can find him, he can find you too."
"No, hen," James said quietly. "It's not the Campbell who harries me now. He's fled back to his castle at Inveraray, a ruined man. He thought his wealth would buy him victory. He mortgaged his future to buy support, and now creditors bang at his door and his own son threatens patricide." James got up to sit close to her on the rose -colored settee. "It's Cromwell I fear now. He wants to unseat the king and have Parliament alone rule us all." James gazed out the window into the far distance, his face dark. "I have a bad feeling about one who would claim the head of his own monarch. Accession to the throne is something divinely determined. It doesn't seem possible for a king to be guilty of treason. Treason against himself, is it?" James asked figuratively, shaking his head in disgust.
"Either way," he added, "the time for me to pursue overt action is over. I shall continue to agitate for the king, but sadly, it will have to be from a distance. For the moment, at least."
Magda glared at that last statement, but James was saved by a knock at the door. He studied her face as if he could convince her with his eyes alone. "Come," he called out, without looking from Magda.
One of the home's many maids opened the door. "A gentleman has come to call, sir." She bobbed a curtsy. "He didn't give his name," she added quickly, seeing the intensity on James's face. "He claims you fought together at Philiphaugh."
"How did he find you?" Magda asked of the mysterious visitor. But the look that swept James's features broke her heart. He would be desperate to speak with a former comrade. She knew he'd been haunted by regret and anguish from the battle at the border. He wouldn't have recovered from the deaths of so many good men. Would never recover.
"Aye," he said quickly, obviously eager to speak with one of the few survivors. "Send him up straightaway."
He looked back to Magda, a resigned smile curving his mouth, and put her hand to his lips. He was facing her when they heard the sickeningly familiar sound. His hand gripped hers tightly, and the peace that lit his eyes froze as all expression bled from his face.
"I'd have killed you months ago if it weren't for Campbell's incompetence."
James turned just as Alexander Leslie pulled his pistol to full cock with another loud click. He stared at Leslie until realization loosened his brow. "You'd be the Covenanter general. "
"Very good, Graham." Leslie took a step forward, his arms extended straight in front of him, aiming for James's chest. "I was the Covenanter general, until Campbell, that stubborn and raging prig, misused my men. He thought his wealth "—
Magda shifted her weight, and Leslie's gun barrel was pointed at her head in an instant. "Still yourself. Don't think I'd not shoot a lass."
"Who knew"—James rose slowly, drawing Leslie's attention away from Magda—"that you'd have such principles?" He instinctively brought his hand to his side, empty where his broadsword usually hung. He'd not yet replaced it, and imagined it had fetched a tidy sum for some lucky guard along the way.
"Is that what you call it then?" Leslie's eyes roved the well- appointed room around him. "I say you're just like the Campbell. I say men like you use money, not principles, to achieve your victories." The Covenanter general was impassioned, and didn't hear the door ease open behind him.
"You can think what you like." James spoke through gritted teeth. "You're the one who fights for coin. Not I. My Highlanders and I were rewarded with dried oats for our bellies and cold-packed snow to rest our heads. And you come here to challenge me?"
Leslie didn't hear Margaret at his back. She'd glided in the room, snatching up the silver pot from the tea service as she entered. Magda tried to catch her eye to send a silent message, but James's sister saw nothing but the back of Leslie's head. Margaret cut across the sitting room like a great, silent blue -silken barge, outrage pursing her mouth tight.
"I tire…" Margaret said as she swung, "of your"—Leslie turned in what seemed like slow motion just as the teapot connected with his temple—"adventures, James.
"And you" she pointed at Magda with an accusing finger. "You mustn't overtax yourself."
James was across the room in an instant, standing over Leslie's limp body splayed on the Oriental carpet. Shaking his head in disbelief, he said sotto voce, "My sister takes every advantage of the trappings of her wealth."
Magda's laugh sounded relieved, but her eyes didn't leave Margaret, who studied her with disarming intensity.
"Fetch Napier," James called to a maid who'd rushed in upon hearing the commotion. She stood staring mutely at Leslie. "Fetch my brother-in-law. Make haste, now. Before he wakes." James nodded to the floor, which spurred the woman to action.
"Aye," James's sister said. The two women still stared at each other from across the room. "I've seen your belly." Margaret calmly gathered the teapot from the floor and placed it back on the tray. "You'll not hide it from me."
She walked briskly to Magda's side and put a proprietary hand on her abdomen. "And did you not know it?" Margaret asked. "Look at those cheeks. And I know your bosom wasn't nearly so large when first we met. Oh aye," she said responding to Magda's blush. "I can always spot a woman with child."
Tears pricked the corners of Magda's eyes as she gazed up at James, now standing above her.
"Is it true, hen?" Tenderly, he reached down and cupped her chin. "Could it be true?"
"I… I don't know," she stammered, even as she realized that she did know. Had known somewhere deep down that she carried James's child. A vision Hashed to her, of a life with James on some small, windswept island, a plaid shawl pulled tight around her for warmth, children racing at her feet, their cheeks flushed with their simple life of green moors, sunshine, and the sea. All of her reservations about life in the seventeenth century dissolved and she thought only of James's smile, and felt the rightness of it all. "Yes, I think… I think I am."