The priest picked up the hem of his cassock and started running toward his mistress. "Wait, lass," he shouted.
Jamie heard the priest's frantic cal . She turned around immediately, a worried expression on her face.
"Father, you shouldn't be running until your chest is better," she called out. The priest climbed the steps and grabbed her arm. "Alec just saw the hole in the back wall ." She gave him a gentle smile. "He was bound to notice, Father."
It was clear to him that the sweet lass didn't understand her jeopardy. "You'd best come along with me to the chapel until Alec hears all the soldiers'
explanations. He'l calm down in an hour or two. Then you can—"
"Have more faith in your laird," Jamie countered. "He'l see the rightness in the change, once it's finished.
I'm sure of it, Father. Besides, he won't yel at me. I have his promise. Please don't worry. I'l go inside and explain it all to Alec. I'm certainly not afraid."
"'Tis your lack of fear that has me most afeared," the old man admitted. He knew Alec wouldn't touch her in anger. Stil , he could destroy her delicate feelings with his shouts. Father Murdock made a hasty sign of the cross after Jamie patted his hand and walked inside. He was too weak in his knees to go after her.
Jamie braced herself against her husband's irritation and hurried on into the hall . She came to an abrupt stop when she saw what was going on.
Alec was sitting at the head of the table. A soldier stood at his side, giving his accounting.
Alec didn't look overly upset. His elbow rested on the tabletop and his forehead rested in his hand. He looked more weary than angry.
Al the soldiers who'd worked on dismantling the kitchen building were there, too.
Well , hel , they were standing in line, obviously waiting their turn to tel on her. Jamie gave them a good frown to let them know what she thought of their disloyalty, then walked toward her husband.
When he finally glanced up, Jamie froze. He was furious. The tic was back in his clenched jaw. His eyes were blazing with anger. The wind didn't aid her cause much either. The whistling sound coming through the large hole reminded Alec of what she'd done.
He stared at her for a long silent moment. "I would like to explain," she said.
"Leave this room immediately, wife."
He hadn't raised his voice to her, but his rude command stung just the same.
"Alec, you promised me you wouldn't forget your temper," she reminded him. Heaven help her, she was suddenly quite terrified by the look in his eyes.
He did yel at her then. "Get out before I… now, wife."
Jamie nodded. She rushed over to the mantel, grabbed a coin from the box, and then walked out of the hall with as much dignity as she could muster under such humiliating circumstances.
Edith and Annie were standing near the entrance. They snickered when she passed them.
Jamie didn't start crying until she reached the stables. She ordered Donald to ready Wildfire. The stable master didn't argue with her command, and once he'd helped her mount her horse, he asked if he should prepare Alec's steed.
She shook her head, then started for the gate.
Father Murdock was standing in the courtyard, waiting for her to pass him.
Jamie leaned down and handed him her coin. "He lied to me," she whispered. "This is for an indulgence for his soul."
Murdock grabbed hold of the stirrup. "Where are you going, lass?" he asked, pretending not to notice her tears. "You have me worrying."
"His order, Father, and I am ever dutiful. Which way is England?"
The priest was too stunned to point the direction. Jamie guessed it was downhil . "Thank you for being kind to me," she said.
She left the priest staring after her with his mouth hanging open in disbelief.
Jamie knew he'd eventual y go and tel on her, then decided it didn't matter. Alec wouldn't come after her. She wasn't significant enough. He'd be happy to be rid of her.
She thought she'd have trouble at the drawbridge, yet after she'd explained that she was doing their laird's bidding, the soldiers immediately let her pass.
She let Wildfire race with the wind then. Jamie simply held on, openly weeping. She didn't know where they were headed or how long they continued at the neck-breaking pace. In truth, she didn't care about anything but having her cry. When the horse finally stopped in the shelter of the trees, Jamie decided it was time to regain a bit of control.
She saw the boy then. He wasn't a Kincaid, she realized, as his plaid was of a different color. Jamie didn't make a sound. She hoped the boy wouldn't notice her, for she didn't want anyone to see her in such a disgraceful condition, not even a child.
The boy was too preoccupied to look behind him. He was staring intently at the bushes to his right. Jamie wondered what held him so entranced.
He suddenly cried out and started to back away just as a giant boar let out a vile-sounding snort and charged forward.
Jamie instinctively reacted. She slapped Wildfire's flank, sending her into a full gal op. The mare flew down the slope.
Jamie clutched the reins and Wildfire's mane in her left hand and leaned to the right side.
The child saw her coming. He started running toward her, his hands outstretched. Jamie prayed she had the strength to lift the boy. God proved merciful. With the child's eager assistance and his death grip on her right arm, she was able to haul him up high enough for him to swing one leg over Wildfire's back.
They both held on for dear life. The boar gave up his chase a few minutes later, but Wildfire was stil prickly with fear. The horse suddenly turned.
Jamie and the boy went tumbling to the ground.
She landed on her side. He landed on top of her. He quickly rol ed to the side, then stood and tried to help her.
He was tugging on her right arm. She grimaced against the pain. "Are you hurt?" the child asked, his fear obvious in his thick Gaelic burr.
"Just bruised," Jamie answered in Gaelic. She slowly regained her feet, then noticed her bliaut was torn at the shoulder seam.
They were standing in the center of a narrow clearing. Jamie was shaking from head to toe. "We've had a close cal , we have," she announced.
"Lord, I was scared. Were you?" she asked when the boy looked up at her.
The child nodded.
They both smiled then. "We gave him what-for, didn't we?"
"Aye, we did give him what-for," she said, thinking to herself what an adorable child he was. He had long red hair. It curled around his cherubic face.
His nose was painted with large freckles. "I'm Lady Kincaid," she continued. "And your name?"
"I shouldn't be tel ing," the boy whispered. "I'm not supposed to be on Kincaid land."
"Did you get lost?"
He shook his head. "You'l tel ."
"No, I won't tel . What are you doing here, then?"
The child lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "I like to go hunting. My name's Lindsay."
"And what is your clan's name?"
"Lindsay," he repeated. "You speak Gaelic, but you sound different. You aren't wearing the Kincaid plaid, either."
His eyes widened.
"I'm Alec Kincaid's wife, Lindsay," she explained. "How old are you?"
"Nine, this summer."
"Your mother will be looking for you, I would think."
"My father will be doing the looking. He'l be getting worried," he added. "I better go home now."
Jamie nodded. She didn't smile, for the child's expression had turned very serious.
"You saved my life," the boy said. "Father must repay."
"No," Jamie countered. "He doesn't have to repay. You have to promise me you won't go hunting on your own again. will you give me your word?"
When he nodded, she smiled. "Do you want me to fol ow you home?"
"They'd keep you if you did. We're feuding with the Kincaids," he explained very matter-of-factly.
"Be careful, then," she cautioned. "Hurry. I think I hear someone coming."
The child disappeared behind the line of trees before Jamie had taken a step toward Wildfire.
She was standing all alone in the center of the clearing when Alec and his stal ion broke through the branches. He was so relieved to see her that he stopped his mount and sat there, staring down at her, while he calmed his ragged breathing.
Alec couldn't tel if she was upset or not. Her head was bowed. He knew he'd terrified her. The look on her face when he'd shouted at her had shown how frightened she was.
He hoped to heaven she'd gotten over her fear, though… and her tears. He'd noticed those, too, when she walked past him with her coin in her hand.
Hel , he'd probably have to apologize. He wasn't any good at it, he knew, but he'd stil have to give it a try, he decided. He would force himself to be calm… and reasonable.
Then he noticed the leaves in her hair and the tear in her gown. "What the hel happened?" he shouted.
He was off his stal ion and racing toward her before she could answer. Jamie took a quick step back.
"Nothing happened to me," she announced.
"Don't lie to me." He grabbed her in his arms and pul ed her up against his chest.
"You lied to me."
"I didn't," he answered, calming once again.
"You lost your temper with me."
"You had the men tear out the back wall of my home," he countered.
"You said I could rearrange your kitchens," Jamie whispered. "In the winter, Frieda and Hessie and all the other servants have to wade through the snow to get your supper. I was trying to do the right thing, Alec. It made sense to add the building onto the back of the house. You wouldn't let me explain, though."
Alec closed his eyes and prayed for patience. He couldn't seem to quit hugging her long enough to lecture her. "I did forget my temper," he admitted. "And I'm furious with you."
"Because of the hole in your wall ?"
"No," he told her. "Because you were afraid of me. Did you think I'd hurt you?"
"No," she answered. She put her arms around his waist and relaxed against him. "You embarrassed me.
A husband shouldn't yel at his wife."
"I will try in future to remember this dictate," he promised. "Jamie, there will be times when I will forget again."
"I'l have to get used to it, I suppose," she said. "Your shout could fel a pine tree. But you're mostly bluster, aren't you, Alec?" Alec rested his chin on the top of her head while he decided whether or not to let her get away with that smal insult. "Father Murdock said you were going back to England.
Was that your intent?"
"You told me to get out," she reminded him.
A smile eased his frown away. "I meant for you to leave the hall , Jamie, not Scotland."
"I just wanted to leave for a while, husband. 'Tis the truth I'm not settling in very well ."
She sounded terribly forlorn. "I know you'l find this difficult to believe, but back home people actually liked me. They did! I'm not at all used to being thought of as inferior, Alec. That does take some adjustment. Your soldiers were waiting to tel on me, weren't they? They don't like me any better than you do."
Jamie suddenly burst into tears. "Oh, I'm being pitiful, aren't I? Why did you bother to come after me?"
"Jamie, the soldiers were waiting to have their chance to defend you," he announced. His voice was a gruff, aifectionate whisper. "They're as loyal to you as they are to me, wife."
He let her pul away so she could see his nod. It was his undoing, however, for once he saw the tears streaming down her cheeks, his discipline all but deserted him. "I came after you because you belong to me. Don't ever try to leave me again, Jamie, or you'l truly see my anger. Love, quit your tears now. I didn't mean to…"
His voice shook too much to continue. Alec leaned down and kissed her brow. Jamie mopped at the corners of her eyes with the backs of her hands. Her arm started throbbing from her bruising, reminding her of her mishap. "I fel off my horse," she admitted.
Now he sounded forlorn. Jamie smiled. "I'm really very skil ed, Alec, but the boar frightened Wildfire and…"
She quit trying to explain when she saw his frown. "Never mind," she said. "Alec? When a husband and wife have had a disagreement, they usual y kiss after they've made up."
"The wife is wearing her husband's plaid, though," Alec pointed out. "Stil , I wouldn't break my word if she wasn't wearing anything at all ."
She didn't understand his meaning until he'd pul ed her torn bliaut over her head and tossed it on the ground.
"You cannot mean to—to—" she stammered. She took a step back.
"Oh, I mean to, all right." He took a step forward.
She let out a scream of laughter when he lunged for her, then turned and ran into the cover of the trees.
"You're daft, Alec," she called over her shoulder. " 'Tis the middle of the day."
He grabbed her from behind and pul ed her up against him. "There are children about," she pointed out.
Alec nuzzled the side of her throat. "You want a proper kiss, don't you?"
"This isn't at all proper," she answered. Her breath caught in her throat then and a shiver raced across her shoulders. Alec was nibbling on her earlobe while he whispered in great detail all the erotic things he was going to do to her.
She went limp against him. Alec leaned back against a thick tree, bracing her between his thighs. He took his time undressing her, ignoring her feeble protests and when he'd completed that task, he pul ed her up against his hardness. His hands cupped her br**sts while his thumbs lazily stroked her nipples.
He knew he had her surrender when she let out a soft moan. "Now I'm going to show you how inferior you are to me," he whispered.
"You are?" she asked on a gasp. His hand had just moved between her thighs.
He grunted with pleasure when he felt her heat. She was already wet and hot for him. "I'm going to kiss every inch of your inferior body," he promised.