We can't go to Ferguson's holding either, because I gave Daniel's wife sanctuary."

"I see."

"Daniel was furious, of course."

"Of course," the soldier agreed. "Did Daniel threaten war, too?"

"No, but he's thinking about it. I'm going to tel the king what a prickly temper Daniel has if he doesn't treat my sister better."

"What do you think the king will do?"

"He'll have a firm talk with Daniel, most likely. He'l set him straight about his duties to his wife."

"You have complete faith in King Edgar, then?"

"Oh, yes," Jamie rushed out. "I haven't met the man, of course, but Alec would only be loyal to a good king." She ended her statement with a delicate shrug.

The soldier smiled. "Stil , you must have heard wonderful stories about Edgar," he prodded.

"Oh, heaven's no," Jamie returned. She mopped the wetness from her cheeks with her plaid while she added, "I heard he was a monster."

The stranger's reaction indicated his displeasure. "When I was in England, of course," she went on. "Now I know the stories aren't true. Alec wouldn't pledge himself to a monster."

"And so you are loyal to the Kincaid, is that it?"

"To both Alec and Edgar," Jamie qualified, wondering why the soldier seemed so determined to continue this topic. "I can even understand why Edgar will want to throttle me when he hears about the problems I've caused."

"I'm sure he'l be most understanding."

"Sir, no one is that understanding. I've started a war with Mary Kathleen's family, too. Did I mention that? They say I kidnapped the child away from them."

"But you didn't."

"Oh, yes, I certainly did. I threw their plaid on the ground, too. Marcus spit on it. The child had been beaten. She belongs to Alec and me now. My husband is certain Edgar will stand by us."

"Who is this Mary Kathleen?"

"Helena's daughter."

"And she was mistreated?"

"She bloody well was," Jamie stated. "She's just a baby, too," she continued. "And certainly couldn't defend herself. Gavin said Kevin, her blood father, would turn in his grave."

"The king would stand by your side," the soldier announced then. "Now tel me about the commotion going on outside when I arrived, if you please."

"Justin grabbed me and kissed me. I had to retaliate, of course, and so I hit him in the back of his legs with one of Alec's clubs."

The soldier's eyes widened over that confession. "I'm certain your wife would have done the very same thing," Jamie continued. "No lady wishes to be pawed by any man but her husband."

"I'm not married," he countered.

"But if you were?"

"I'm certain that if I were, my wife would have done the same."

"You are most kind, sir, for agreeing with me."

"Did Alec know you hit Justin?"

"Yes—I mean, no. You see, it wasn't Justin I fel ed. It was Philip. It was an easy mistake to make, sir, because I didn't know Harold's sons were identical twins, until Alec told me."

"After you hit Philip?"

"Sir, this isn't the time to laugh. Nay, this is a serious matter."

"I do apologize, my lady," the soldier returned. "And then what happened?"

"Alec picked up the laird's son and sent him flying, just like a caber."

"He threw Philip?"

"No, no," Jamie countered. "Do pay attention," she suggested. "It was Justin he threw. He shouldn't have done it, but I can't really be angry with him."

"Justin?"

"Alec," she countered again. She gave him a look that showed her displeasure over his short attention span, then said, "Alec shouldn't have tossed Justin, and he ruined my surprise."

She suddenly started crying again. "How did Alec ruin your—"

"Alec didn't ruin anything," she wailed. "If you want to hear this story, I beg you to try to concentrate on what I'm saying. Do you know what the worst of it is? I wanted to kneel before Edgar and recite my pledge of loyalty in Gaelic. Alec didn't know I could speak his language, you see. Then he heard me shouting at Justin in Gaelic, and of course he knew. I dressed in his plaid, but I can't fashion these pleats to save my soul. I wanted everything to be perfect when I knelt before my king. I was going to tel him I loved him, too."

"Your king?"

"No, my Alec," Jamie answered. "I honor my king, sir, but I love my husband. Surely you can see the rightness in that, can't you?"

"Alec will right the damage you believe you've done," the soldier stated. "Why don't you show me how you were going to give your king this pledge?"

Jamie thought that was a rather odd suggestion. She didn't want to offend the kind gentleman, though.

He'd patiently listened to her trouble. "I do suppose I could use the practice," she admitted aloud. "He might want me to recite my pledge before he has me flogged."

She knelt down and bowed her head. "I wasn't certain if I should put my hand over my heart or not," she admitted.

"He wouldn't have a preference," the soldier stated.

Jamie closed her eyes and recited the words of loyalty. The soldier helped her stand again. He looked very pleased with her effort.

"And now I shal help you adjust your plaid," the soldier announced.

Jamie smiled her appreciation and turned around so he could get to the task.

Alec leaned against the arch of the entrance, a soft smile on his face as he watched the king of Scotland adjust his wife's plaid.

Chapter Seventeen

He knew he really should tel her who the man she'd wept all over was, yet he didn't have the heart to upset her again.

Jamie was in much better spirits once her plaid had been adjusted for her. She sounded happy, too, when she again offered her appreciation.

When she spotted her husband lounging against the entrance, she gave him a wide smile. Alec was so pleased she wasn't crying that he smiled back.

No, he wouldn't upset her now. He'd wait until they were alone and no one else could witness her embarrassment.

Jamie walked up the steps, her hands folded demurely in front of her pleats, drawing her husband's full attention. She stopped in front of him, bowed her head, and whispered in Gaelic, "I love you, Alec."

"I love you too, Jamie."

He tried to take her into his arms but she backed up a step and shook her head. "We have a guest," she reminded him.

"So I must wait until later to… paw you?"

"You heard it all , didn't you?"

"I did," he admitted. "You don't look too distressed with me, though."

"Your king is a very kind man."

His mouth dropped open in astonishment. "Then you knew, all the while?"

"Do you honestly believe I would have instructed the man to pay attention to what I was saying if I'd known all the while?" she whispered. "I'm a little slow, Alec, but I'm not completely ignorant. I realized who he was when I was kneeling."

Alec started laughing. "You mustn't tel him I know," she whispered.

"Why?"

"It would hurt his feelings."

"It would?"

Jamie nodded. "He thinks he's protecting my feelings, Alec. We mustn't disappoint him."

She'd bowed and left the hall before he could make a comment to that ridiculous remark. His king called out to him then, drawing his full attention.

Alec said, "Do you think I'l try to chal enge you, Edgar, or thank you for forcing me to marry her?"

"You'l thank me, of course," Edgar returned. "And we'l both be chal enged by Henry if he realizes what a gem he's given us."

Both Alec and Edgar laughed over their own cunning. "We won't have long to wait," Alec predicted. "My wife will probably start a war with England in another week or two. There was a moment when I thought she was Henry's secret weapon," he admitted.

Jamie could hear the howls of laughter coming through the doors. She wondered what jest Alec had just told the king, then decided it was probably that foul story about the dead Englishwoman.

She'd nearly col apsed to her knees the minute the doors had closed behind her. all the horrible comments she'd made to Edgar were screaming inside her head. Heaven help her, she'd actually cried in front of the man.

And he'd given her his understanding. That sudden thought made her heart warm with gratitude. He really was a kind man.

"Jamie, what are you doing out here by yourself?" Gavin asked.

"Why do you ask such a question, Gavin? Am I to have an escort all the time?"

"You are," the soldier admitted before he could stop himself.

"By Alec's order?"

He turned the topic rather than answering her. "One of our cooks has burned her hand, Jamie. She'd like you to look at it."

Jamie's attention was immediately swayed. "Oh, the poor woman," she said. "Take me to her at once, Gavin, and I shal see what I can do."

The next two hours were spent ministering to the sick woman. The woman's burn really wasn't too severe, but Jamie ended up having a nice visit with the cook's large family.

Gavin stayed by her side all the while. When they started back toward the main house, Jamie said, "I'd like to put fresh flowers on Helena's grave, Gavin. will you walk with me?"

"I will ," he agreed. He called out their errand to Marcus when they passed the stables and saw him readying his mount.

Jamie and Gavin maintained a tranquil silence as she picked wildflowers. When her arms were brimming with her col ection, they started up the hill to Helena's grave. They passed the consecrated cemetery, squared off by old pine slats, and continued on.

"Gavin? Were you here when Helena died?"

"I was," he replied.

"I was told she kil ed herself," Jamie went on. "Father Murdock said she jumped off one of the cliffs."

Gavin nodded. He motioned to the rise to the left of Helena's grave. "It happened over there."

"Did anyone see her jump?"

Gavin nodded. "Yes, Jamie."

"Where were you? Did you see—"

"Jamie, must we speak of this?"

Jamie knelt down beside Helena's grave and brushed the old flowers away. "I'm just trying to understand, Gavin," she whispered. "Would you think me daft if I admitted that I think Helena wants me to understand?"

"I probably would," Gavin replied, trying to make his tone light. "Someone has already put flowers on her grave," he remarked in an attempt to change the subject.

"I did," Jamie explained. "The day before yesterday."

She didn't speak again until she'd finished blanketing the grave with the colorful flowers.

Gavin waited until she turned back to him before questioning her. "Jamie? will you explain what you meant about Helena wanting you to understand?" He knelt on one knee and began to twirl one of the flowers between his fingers while he waited for her to answer. He noticed then that Jamie was patting the grave.

"It doesn't make sense," Jamie suddenly blurted out. "How can I make Mary Kathleen understand when the time comes for her to be told? I have to understand first."

"What is there to understand? Helena was in despair. She—"

"But did you see this despair, Gavin?"

He shook his head. "I didn't know the woman well enough to make such a judgment. I admit I was…surprised when she…"

"Then you didn't see this terrible unhappiness. Father Murdock was just as surprised as you were. She seemed content to him. She was anxious to bring her baby here. If she was afraid of Alec, or if she hated him, she wouldn't have wanted to bring her daughter here."

"Perhaps she didn't think she had a choice," Gavin remarked.

Jamie stood up and started toward the ridge where Helena had jumped. "She could have fal en. Yes, it could have been an accident. Why was she damned by everyone?"

She stopped when she neared the edge. A shiver passed down her arms. She rubbed them to take the sudden chil away. "When I first met Alec, I was a little afraid of him. It took me less than a day to realize what a good man he was, and I knew, from the very beginning, that he'd take care of me, Gavin. Helena would have felt the same, I'm sure of it."

Gavin nodded. "You must remember, Jamie, that Helena didn't know Alec well . He was called away—"

"Did she die quickly?" Jamie whispered.

"No," Gavin returned. "She landed on that ledge down there," he told her, pointing toward the jagged stone. "When Alec arrived home, they'd already dragged her back up. You couldn't have saved her. No one could. Her back was broken."

"She wasn't dead?"

"She died two days later," Gavin answered. "She never opened her eyes, and I don't think she was in pain, Jamie."

"She lost her footing," Jamie insisted, trying to believe that possibility.

"We should go back now, Jamie," Gavin announced, trying to change the subject. "Alec will be looking for you. Now that the king has left—"

"He's gone?" Jamie interrupted. "When, Gavin? He only just arrived."

"He was taking his leave while you were col ecting your flowers, Jamie."

"Well, spit," Jamie muttered. "I didn't get to say goodbye."

"He'll come back soon," Gavin promised her. "Alec is like a son to him. He visits regularly."

A sudden sound drew Gavin's attention. Just as he turned around, he was struck on the side of the head by a large rock. Gavin saw only blinding light before he staggered backward.

Jamie turned just as Gavin began to fal . A stone hit her forehead, gouging a deep cut. She cried out as she grabbed Gavin from behind. She was desperately trying to keep the soldier from fal ing over the ledge.

Something sharp hit her shoulder. Jamie screamed in pain. Gavin's weight was too much for her. She knew they were going to fal , but she remembered that the ridge sloped sharply to the left… or was it the right? "Please, God, help us," she whimpered as she tightened her hold around the warrior's waist. She used every ounce of strength to push the two of them toward the low overhang.



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