"Really?" The question exploded from his mouth with a laugh. Sitting, he grabbed Magda and pulled her onto his lap. "So," he said, quoting the old marching song in an exaggerated Scots brogue, "are you with bairn, my chicken?" He kissed her full on the mouth, for all to see.

"So I've been downgraded from a hen, is it?" Then Magda laughed too, her immediate fears for their safety, for the moment, melted away. "I do love you, James."

"And I you." He took her face in his hands and gave her a brief, rough kiss. "Oh, aye, I do love you so."

Margaret turned away quickly and bustled back to the tea tray. "I know that… that man, Lonan was it?" Hesitating, she retrieved her half-filled cup. "That he handfasted the two of you. But I plan to throw you a proper wedding." She took a dainty sip and scowled at the cold temperature. "The seamstress has your sizing now, and I'd commission her before you grow too large. But we must wait," Margaret added with great consternation, "until that hideous injury on my brother's face subsides." She put the cup back down with a sharp clink. "As if his nose wasn't already large enough," she added in a mumble.

Magda simply laughed. "It's good to be home."

Chapter 41

"Tell me again, my swan." Napier backed off the balcony into their bedroom, pulling his wife with him. "Tell me how you did it."

He leaned in to nibble at the thick flesh at Margaret's neck. Its softness never ceased to entice him, and the low-necked gowns she favored were a constant torment, showcasing her suppleness as they did. "Tell me how you saved the day."

"Oh, Archibald," Margaret gasped. "I… I was so afraid."

"My sweet and delicate swan, you must have been terrified." He twined his long, thin fingers through her hair, releasing it from its tight bun. "What would I have done had you not found such courage?"

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"I had no choice. Oh!" she cried, as Napier spun her around to bend her over the edge of the bed. His lean body folded over hers, an almost perfe ct match in height, if not in weight.

"Oh Archie, I was so afraid. But it was the only thing I could do to save us."

"You brave, brave lassie." He deftly undid the row of buttons running down the spine of her dress. "My sweet bonny lassie." Napier loosened the bodice and slipped his fingers in and around the front, taking one of her large breasts full into his hand.

"Oh, Archie!"

They both stood, but Margaret's elbows and head rested on the bed now, as if that and the force of Napier's will were the only things holding her upright. He swept her hair up and over into loose tendrils on the mattress above her head. Napier could tell by the rapid rise and fall of her chest that she was breathless now. He could feel Margaret's eagerness for him, sensed her deep longing cut with the slightest bit of trepidation.

Margaret may have been a force to be reckoned with outside the bedroom, but inside she was as demure as a virgin, always startled and exhilarated both by his overtures. Napier tenderly turned her face sideways, tracing his finger along her lips, inserting it into her mouth, and watched with a hooded and hungry smile as her eyes closed with pleasure and the flush spread from her breasts up to her cheeks.

"Do you want me, wife?"

"Oh… oh, aye," she said. And that too made Napier smile. She was so conscious of appearances, of place and class. Napier was always incredibly gratified to watch that propriety slip away whenever they lay together. To watch her blush, to hear her accent grow coarse, and see her face go wild with her passion made him want her beyond reason.

He took Margaret fast then, hiking up her skirt and hitching down his pants, unable to wait. Napier would take her slowly and properly later, but now he needed to be inside his wife. He pulled her close and thrust into her, ignited by Margaret's pleasured moans and the feel of his flesh against hers. She tossed her head back, and Napier saw the hot flush of her cheeks and watched as Margaret's lips parted to release a sound, sharp and feral, as her bodytensed then loosened in his arms. He fell into her then, losing himself to her. and they collapsed together, sated, onto the bed.

"Oh you are my Archibald," she purred, when they'd finished. Napier gently pulled her all the way up onto their bed, cradling her body into his.

"And you," he said in reply, his love for her ragged in his voice. "You are my most adored, my brave and bonny Margaret."

Chapter 42

They entered their home with their arms wrapped about each other. It was a humble place, but made beautiful by the multitude of wildflowers they'd picked, blooms tenacious enough to brave the late autumn wind that whipped against the crags of the shoreline. Lavender, pink, and white blossoms twined along the rafters, and their sweet, fresh scents mingled with the rich sea air that permeated their life on the island.

Though James and Magda had been joined long ago in a hand-fasting blessed by Brother Lonan, the wedding ceremony they'd just held was a formal acknowledgement of their union. A few friends and family had come to give witness, and they crowded now into the cottage's main living area.

Of those who couldn't attend, they'd gotten news. MacColla still fought in the western Highlands, eager to avenge his father, seemingly unable to rest until he witnessed the total destruction of the Campbell clan. Ewen Cameron had relayed his family's regrets, but had sent with Napier a gift from his library, a bound copy of the poems of Lucan, whom he knew to be one of James's favorite authors. And James had been heartbroken to hear that the fine young Jamie Ogilvy had been captured after their escape from Selkirk, and was still imprisoned in the Tolbooth.

James thought too of all those who'd fallen, and drank a toast to Colonel Sibbald, noting that, though the old man would've appreciated the gesture, he'd likely have preferred whisky to the wine in James's hand.

Everyone had news, and some even had gossip about James himself to share. Speculation over his fate raged through Scotland. Apparently there were some who believed he'd been hanged in secret for Cromwell's personal entertainment, while others had him off gallivanting across France. It all amused him, so long as it kept their eyes away from his and Magda's hideaway.

All were dressed for the day in their finest. Napier wore a quilted waistcoat in olive green that set off the canary yellow of Margaret's dress. His eyes kept straying to the line of satin bows that ran from between her breasts down the front of the gown's tight stomacher, and the two of them seemed to think that their stolen touches went unseen.

Tom Sydserf was a grand figure in a doublet of navy velvet. He also wore buff- colored britches, tucked into fashionable wide -cuffed boots new enough to creak with each step. James was overjoyed to see Will Rollo again, having only recently learned of his fate. He'd come the day before, still recovering, but alive and strong. Napier had received word that Rollo would attend the ceremony, but he'd kept his impending arrival secret, and the shock and elation of it had overwhelmed James. Though the bandage across Rollo's chest meant he could only wear his coat slung about his shoulders, his stoic face cut as handsome a profile as ever.

"I'd like to raise my glass." Tom's voice boomed over the chatter, and the room fell silent.

"Aye, a toast," Napier agreed. For the first time that evening, he stepped from his wife's side. "To the health and honor of the happy couple. If years ago you'd told us this day would come, we'd have doubted you."

"Aye," Margaret interrupted. "I never thought to meet a woman so capable of captivating my brother."

"Though I dare say he chose one from much further afield than France," Tom mused into his wine glass. Magda watched Margaret overhear his comment, and saw the renewed speculation that sparked in her eyes. She gave her sister-in-law an enigmatic wink, then had to laugh at herself acting so like her husband. Soon she'd tell Margaret of her true origins, and she greatly looked forward to shocking her with the news.

They toasted for some time, but when the talk turned ribald, James pulled his wife out onto a modest flagstone terrace along the side of their cottage. The sun had long set and the moon outshone the stars that night, casting bright, silvery light in a shimmering line that connected Magda and James to the land at their feet and the waves beyond.

"I look at you and cannot believe my fortune." James stepped back and held her hands in his, admiring Magda in her dress. It was a gown of ivory satin with a straight bodice, simple but elegant. James had instructed his sister to spare no expense, and gold thread was embroidered at the neckline and along armbands above the elbow. Magda wore an arisaid over top, in matching ivory wool and lined with silk, tied at her waist by a thin leather cord with coral beading at the tips.

The ceremony had been smaller than he would've wished—James would have pledged his vows to her in front of all the world if he could have—but he took her at her word that the intimate celebration was all she ever could have wanted.

"Are you certain a life sequestered with me is what you desire?" Fear for their safety had led them to one of the more secluded Hebridean isles. He longed to have his library, to hear musical performances, and to drink fine wines, but the simplicity they enjoyed seemed to thrill

Magda. Seeing her run barefoot along the beach, her hair flowing loose and her laugh rising in the air, had made this self- enforced exile worthwhile.

"You deserve a life rich with the sights and sounds of the world. " Concern etched his brow. "And yet I find that my days of travel, roaming from royal courts to tangled wilderness, seem to have come to a close."

"James." Magda beamed, shaking her head in disbelief. "This is exactly what I want. Your roaming was just about the death of me. I love our new life, and I want to stay just here. I want to raise our children just here."

He placed his hand on her swollen belly. "How is it the Fates smile upon me so? You, hen, make me the happiest man alive. And I've a gift for you. Aye," he said, seeing the protest begin to furrow her face. "I'll not be refused. A husband has the right to give a gift to his bonny bride."