"Judith?" Iain asked, prodding her for an answer.
"No, Iain. I didn't see a man or a woman standing nearby."
He nodded. He really hadn't believed she'd seen anyone, for in truth he doubted she even realized she had been attacked. The first stone probably knocked her into a faint, and her mind was simply too innocent to think about the possibility of treachery.
He leaned down and kissed her before getting out of bed. "It's already past dawn. I've duties to see to," he remarked.
"Do I have duties?" she asked as she pulled the covers over her.
"Of course you do," he answered. "Judith, why do you hide your body from me?"
She started blushing. He laughed. She kicked the covers away. Then she stood up to face him. He took his time looking at her. She stared at the mantel.
"It's all right for you to look at me," he drawled out.
The amusement in his voice made her smile. "You're enjoying my embarrassment, aren't you, husband?"
He didn't answer her. She finally looked at his face. Iain looked… stunned. Was her body displeasing to him? She reached for the covers to hide herself from him.
His next remark stopped her. "You just called me husband. I like that."
She let the blanket drop back on the bed. "Do you like me?"
He grinned. "Sometimes."
She laughed as she ran to him and threw herself into his arms. He lifted her off the floor and kissed her.
"You make me forget my duties."
She didn't care. She was pleased her kisses could rob him of his concentration. She went back to the bed and sat down so she could watch him get dressed.
It seemed to her that with each article of clothing he put on, he changed a bit, becoming more and more like the clan's leader, and less and less like the gentle lover she'd known a few moments before. By the time he'd attached his scaffold to his belt, he was every bit the laird, and treating her like his chattel.
Her duty, he explained, was to direct the servants in their tasks. They didn't have a full-time cook at the keep. The women in the clan took turns supplying the fare. If she wished to take over that task, she could.
She was responsible for the maintenance of the interior of the keep. Since Graham and Gelfrid were going to continue to live with them, she was also supposed to take care of their needs.
Judith wasn't worried. From an early age she'd directed the servants at her uncle Tekel's holding. She didn't anticipate any problems she couldn't handle.
Iain seemed worried. She was very young to have so many duties thrust upon her shoulders. He made that comment to her and ordered her to come to him if she needed more help.
She wasn't insulted by his lack of confidence in her ability. He couldn't possibly know what she was capable of doing. She would have to show him she could handle the responsibilities that came with being the laird's wife. Only then would he quit his worrying.
She was eager to get started. "I'll go downstairs and begin right away," she announced.
He shook his head. "You haven't recovered from your injury. You must rest."
Before she could argue with him, he pulled her to her feet, kissed her on her forehead, and then walked over to the door.
"Wear my plaid, wife."
She forgot about her nakedness and rushed over to him. "I have a request to make."
"What is it?"
"Will you please call all the women and children together? I would like for you to introduce me to them."
She didn't explain. "Please?"
He let out a sigh. "When do you want this done?"
"This afternoon will be soon enough."
"I planned to call my warriors together and give them the news of our marriage, and they would inform their wives, but if your heart's set—"
"Oh, it is."
"All right, then," he conceded.
She finally let him leave the chamber. She didn't hurry to get dressed. Iain's lovemaking had worn her out. She got back into bed, wrapped herself in the bed covers on his side of the bed so she'd feel closer to him, and closed her eyes.
Her little nap lasted three hours. She wasn't ready to leave her chamber until early afternoon. She felt guilty for wasting her time, but that didn't make her hurry. She put on the same white underdress because she still hadn't collected her clothing from Frances Catherine's yet. She tried to fashion Iain's plaid, made a muck of it, and finally went to find one of the elders to help.
Gelfrid came to her assistance. He escorted her down the steps.
Iain was waiting in the great hall with Graham. They both smiled when they spotted her.
Brodick came strolling into the hall then, drawing her attention. She turned to smile at him.
He bowed to her. "They're waiting for you, Iain," he called out. "Judith, you could have lost that eye. You're damned fortunate."
"Aye, she is," Gelfrid interjected. "I'm not understanding why our laird wants to speak directly to the women," he added then.
He wanted an explanation, of course. Judith wasn't going to give him one. She smiled at the elder and turned to her husband. He took hold of her hand and walked to the door.
"Iain, you trust me, don't you?" she asked.
He was taken aback by her question. "Yes," he answered. "Why do you ask me that now, Judith?"
"Because there is a special… situation, and I want to make certain before I act that you trust me enough not to interfere."
"We'll discuss this tonight," he told her.
"Oh, it should be taken care of by then."
He held the door open for her and followed her outside She started down the steps. He stopped her by putting his arm around her shoulders and hauling her up against his side.
And then he addressed the gathering. The women, so many she couldn't begin to count, stood in front with their children by their side. The courtyard was filled, and the hills below.
Judith barely paid any attention to what her husband was telling the group. She despaired at ever finding the boy in such a crush of people, but she was determined to try. She did find Frances Catherine and was pleased to notice Isabelle stood next to her friend.
Iain stopped. "Keep talking," she whispered.
He leaned down. "I'm finished."
"Iain, please. I still haven't found him. And don't look at me like that. They'll think you think I'm daft."
"I do think you're daft," he muttered.
She nudged him in his side to get him to cooperate.
He started talking again. Judith was about to give up when her attention was drawn to one of the midwives; the one named Helen, she recalled. The midwife looked ill, frightened too. Judith's attention stayed on the woman a bit longer than necessary while she wondered why she would be so visibly upset by this marriage news. While she was watching her, Helen half turned and looked down, behind her. Judith saw the boy then. He was diligently trying to hide behind his mother's skirts.
She nudged Iain again. "You may stop now."
Iain did just that. It took a full minute for his clan to realize he was finished. Then they cheered his announcement. Soldiers who'd been standing by the side of the keep came forward to offer their laird congratulations.
"That's the longest speech I've ever heard you make," one remarked.
"It's the only speech you've ever heard him make," Patrick interjected.
Judith wasn't paying any attention to the men. She wanted to grab the boy before his mother took him away.
"Please excuse me," she requested.
She was gone before Iain could agree. She waved to Frances Catherine when she passed her, and hurried on through the crowd. Several young women stopped her to offer their felicitations. They seemed sincere. She responded with an invitation to come up to the keep for a visitation.
Helen had taken hold of her son's hand. The closer Judith got to her, the more terrified she looked.
The son had obviously confessed his sin to his mother. Judith continued on until she reached the midwife. "Good afternoon, Helen," she began.
"We were on our way to speak to the laird," she blurted out. "Then the announcement came for us to gather in the courtyard and I—"
Her voice broke on a sob. Several women were watching, and Judith didn't want them to know what was going on. "Helen," she began in a whisper. "I have an important matter to discuss with your son. May I borrow him for a few minutes."
Helen's eyes clouded with tears. "Andrew and I were about to tell the laird—"
Judith interrupted her by shaking her head. "This matter is between your son and me," she insisted. "Your laird need never become involved. My husband's a very busy man, Helen. If the matter you wished to discuss concerns the throwing of some stones, then I think we should keep it amongst the three of us."
Helen finally understood. Her relief was so great, she looked ready to collapse. She vigorously nodded. "Shall I wait here?"
"Why don't you go back home? I'll send Andrew along as soon as we've finished our talk."
Helen blinked away her tears. "Thank you," she whispered.
Iain hadn't taken his attention away from his wife. He wondered what she was talking to Helen about. Helen looked distressed, but Judith's face was turned away from him and he didn't know if she was upset or not.
Brodick and Patrick were trying to get his attention. He was about to turn to the warriors when Judith caught his attention again. He watched her reach behind Helen and take hold of her son. The little boy wasn't cooperating. Judith wasn't deterred. She pulled him forward, then turned and walked toward the slope, dragging the wailing child behind her.
"Where's Judith going?" Patrick asked.
Iain didn't answer fast enough to suit Brodick. "Should I follow her? Judith shouldn't be left alone until the culprit's found. It isn't safe."
It wasn't until his friend had asked that question that Iain understood what was happening.
"My brother can take care of his wife, Brodick. You needn't get so riled on her behalf," Patrick told him.
Iain finally turned to his brother and his friend. "There isn't any need to go after Judith. I know who threw the stones. Judith's safe."
"Who the hell did it?" Brodick demanded.
Both warriors were stunned. "But she's with him now," Patrick said.
Iain nodded. "She must have seen him. Did you see the way she dragged him away? Oh, she knows all right. She's probably giving him hell right now."
Iain was right. Judith did give the boy hell. The lecture didn't last long. Andrew was so remorseful, and so terribly afraid of her, she ended up comforting him. He had just turned seven years. He was big, strong too, for his tender years, but he was still only just a little boy.
He was weeping all over Judith's plaid now, begging her forgiveness. He hadn't meant to hurt her. Nay, his intent was to frighten her into wanting to go back to England.
Judith was ready to beg his forgiveness for not leaving the Highlands when the little one sobbed out his reason.
"You made my mama cry."
Judith didn't know why she'd made Helen cry, and Andrew wasn't making enough sense to give her a proper explanation. She decided she would have to talk to Helen in order to get the problem straightened out.
She sat on a low boulder with the sobbing little boy on her lap. She was pleased he was properly contrite. Since he had already confessed his transgression to his mother, she told him she didn't believe he needed to bother his laird with this matter.
"What does your father think about your behavior?" Judith asked.
"Papa died last summer," Andrew told her. "I take care of mama now."
Judith's heart went out to the little boy. "Andrew, you've given me your word you won't get into any further mischief and I believe you mean it. This matter is settled now."
"But I have to tell the laird I'm sorry."
She thought that was very noble of the child. Courageous, too. "Are you worried about talking to your laird?"
"Would you like me to tell him for you?" she asked.
He hid his face in Judith's shoulder. "Would you tell him now?" he whispered.
"All right," she agreed. "We'll go back and—"
"He's here," Andrew whispered in a voice shivering with fear.
Judith turned and spotted her husband standing directly behind her. He was leaning against a tree with his arms folded across his chest.
No wonder Andrew was trying to hide under her plaid.
She could feel him shaking. She decided not to prolong the dreaded ordeal for him. She had to pull him away from her and force him to stand up. Then she took hold of his hand and led him over to Iain.
Andrew's head was bowed low. Iain must have looked like a giant to the boy. Judith smiled up at her husband, then squeezed Andrew's hand.
"Your laird is waiting to hear what you have to tell him," she instructed.
Andrew peeked up. He looked terrified. The freckles covering his face were more white than brown, and his brown eyes were filled with unshed tears.
"I threw the rocks," Andrew blurted out. "I didn't mean to hurt your lady, just make her scared so she'd go back home. Then mama wouldn't cry." After making his speech, he lowered his head again until his chin was nicked in his chest. "I'm sorry," he added in a mumble.
Iain didn't say anything for a long while. Judith couldn't stand to see the child suffer so. She was about to give her own defense of the child's behavior when he raised his hand and shook his head at her.
He didn't want her interference. He slowly moved away from the tree he'd been leaning against and shook his head at Judith.
He stood directly in front of Andrew. "You do not give your feet your apology," he announced. "You give it to me."
Judith didn't agree with her husband's announcement. She was the one who had been injured, and Andrew had already given her his apology. Why did he have to tell his laird he was sorry?
She didn't think now was a good time to argue with Iain, however. He might believe she was trying to undermine his authority.
Andrew looked up at his laird again. His hold on Judith's hand tightened. Couldn't Iain see how he was frightening the little boy?
"I'm sorry I hurt your lady."