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Chapter 12

Drustan's glare was hot enough to singe stone, but he said nothing. He simply swung her up into his arms and carried her back up the stairs, his body rigid with fury. Though his hold was tight, it was not bruising.

He kicked the door closed behind them and set her on her feet.

Neither of them spoke for several long seconds, then he sighed. "You are concerned for the Englishwoman and because of that I will make allowances."

"Will you?"

"I would not beat you, pregnant or not. Ever."

She shrugged. She had known that already. A Chrechte warrior would be ashamed to beat a female. She was not about to apologize for the insult though. She was too angry with him.

Surprisingly, Drustan smiled. "You are very stubborn, wife." When she said nothing in reply, he added. "We will see Lachlan at the nooning meal and I will ask him about you visiting Emily then."

Did he expect her gratitude for the concession? He wasn't getting it. Cait's concern for Emily was so great, it made her stomach roll with nausea. Making her wait another two hours to discover if she would even be allowed to visit the other woman was cruel, but she wasn't the only stubborn wolf in the room. She realized well that no amount of arguing on her part would change his mind. So she did not bother to try.

She turned away and saw her half-full cup of water on the table. She finished it before speaking. "I would like to explore the keep and the castle. Do I have your permission to do so?"

"I can think of a better way to pass the time between now and the nooning meal," he said in a voice filled with masculine promise.

Her pulse leapt in instant response, but she shook her head without deigning to glance his way. "Thank you, but I am in no mood to rut with you again. If it is all the same to you, I would rather see the rest of my new home."

"It is not all the same to me," he said gutturally and then turned her with implacable hands to face him. She had meant to irritate him, but she had not anticipated the fury that exploded from his green eyes and made his body go rigid with battle-ready hardness. "We did not rut last night."

"What would you call it? There is no love between us so it cannot be called lovemaking. It was no communion of souls. You claimed my body with yours. You marked me with your scent and your seed. We ratted," she said again, not understanding why she felt this need to push him so hard.

His hands dropped away from her shoulders as if he could not stand to touch her any longer. "Are you saying you knew something better with your first husband? Did you love the man your brother chose for you? Did he make you scream with ecstasy and cry for more?"

There was something more than anger in Drustan's eyes and she knew instinctively that she could hurt him with her answer. She should want to hurt him as he had hurt her with his lack of trust and lack of concern for her feelings, but she didn't. The simple knowledge that she could hurt him soothed some of the ragged edges inside of her.

But that did not make her anger at his cavalier treatment go away. "No. I was not in love with Sean, nor he with me, but he did not treat me like a dog to bring to heel either."

"I did not do that."

"You did. You implied I have to have your permission to see my friends. You criticized me in front of your mother. Sean never pretended to love me, but he would never have done that. He treated my concerns with respect and sought to alleviate my worries when he could." Those she had shared with him. They had not been close, but that was beside the point. "And he did not demand I ask his permission before taking a step I called my own either."

"You offended my mother."

"I offended you. She understood my worries even if her son is too cruel to do so. Do not lay your sins at your mother's door."

"I am not cruel."

"You would make me suffer your touch while my mind and heart are consumed with worry over my friend, rather than do something to alleviate that worry. But then what do my feelings matter? I am nothing more than a means to an end to you."

Drustan's expression turned colder than the winter moon. "I would not want you to suffer my touch. I will find Lachlan now and seek his permission on your behalf. That is apparently all you want from me."

He stormed out of their quarters before she had time to reply. Not that she knew what she would have said. She did want to check on Emily. Desperately.

But after he left and she felt herself breathing easier, she had to admit that she also wanted a chance to come to terms with her overwhelming response to Drustan. His lack of faith had hurt her, but the fact that she had secretly wanted to return to their bed almost as much as she had wanted to see to her friend's welfare, terrified her.

She did not want to love a man who had married her only as an act of vengeance and who cared nothing for her feelings.

Emily was contemplating testing the boundaries of her captivity by leaving her room when a knock sounded on the door. She rushed forward and pulled it open to find Cait on the other side. Wearing a Balmoral plaid and an expression of deep anxiety, she stood there alone.

Emily drew Cait into the room with a hand on her arm. "Are you all right? You look upset. Are you?"

"No."

"Good." Emily dragged Cait over to sit on the bed. "Lachlan said I would not see you today, I am so glad he was wrong. He was sure that as newlyweds you and Drustan would not venture forth from his quarters for a couple of days at least. Lachlan thinks he knows everything, have you noticed that? I suppose Drustan is similarly inclined. He is a Highlander, after all."

Cait nodded, her anxious expression having turned to one of bemusement.

"But even he can be incorrect in his assumptions, can't he? I mean to say Lachlan can be," Emily said with satisfaction as she took a seat beside Cait, very, very glad to see her. Mend and not just because she did not relish the absolute solitude of the tower room.

Some of the anxiety returned to Cait's velvety brown eyes. She looked very closely at Emily. "I was worried about you."

"I was worried about you, too." Emily studied Cait for evidence she had been through an ordeal, but could see no signs of it. "Tell me truly. How are you? Was it awful?"

"It?" Cait asked with a faint smile.

"The wedding night," Emily clarified with a roll of her eyes. As if her friend did not know what she had been referring to.

Cait glanced around her as if seeking answers to the question in the smooth stone walls of the round room. Her gaze seemed to be caught by the open door and she jumped up to close it before returning to sit beside Emily.

"Well?" Emily prompted when she still said nothing.

"Last night was the most amazing night of my life." There were sad undertones in Cait's voice totally at variance with such a statement.

"You do not sound happy about that." But Emily was feeling a great deal of relief on her friend's behalf.

"I'm not. It wasn't the same for him. I'm sure of it."

"He told you so?" Emily asked, scandalized that even an arrogant warrior would be insensitive enough to utter something so callous.

"No. Not in so many words, but he doesn't believe me that Susannah said she had permission to hunt on Sinclair land."

"Why would a woman go hunting alone? That is the chore of the soldiers certainly?" Everything was so different here and she really wasn't sure what this had to do with Drustan being as moved as Cait was by their intimacy.

Cait bit her lip, her expression pained. "It isn't usual, but she did have permission and she did do it. And because of that she mamet Magnus and they ended up married. Only Drustan is still convinced Magnus came to the island and took Susannah."

"That's ridiculous. How is a lone soldier supposed to cross the sea and kidnap a woman without being detected? If Susannah was within the castle walls, she could not have been taken at all. Were they thinking she was taking a stroll on the beach and got kidnapped?"

"No. Oh, this is so hard."

"What?"

"Trying to explain."

"I'm sorry. I should not interrupt."

"No, it isn't that. It's justyou don't know everything."

"And you cannot tell me?" Emily asked, hurt that her friend did not feel she could trust her with the clan secrets.

"I wish I could."

"Do not concern yourself. Please, just tell me what you can."

"Well, you know I was taken in retaliation for what happened to Susannah. According to clan law, Magnus or my brother should have requested permission from either Lachlan or Drustan to keep Susannah in the Sinclair clan."

"And neither of them did."

"No. They felt the Balmoral clan had failed in their responsibility to protect her and therefore were not deserving of the courtesy."

"I see. Highlanders are very proud people are they not?"

"And the Chrechte even more so."

"Chrechte? I heard Lachlan call himself that. What does it mean? It is not a word I am familiar with."

Cait stared at her. "Lachlan said that in front of you?"

"Yes. Didn't I just say so?"

"I'm surprised, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt for you to know some of our past. Until about one hundred years ago, there were a people in the Highlands that called themselves the Chrechte; the Romans called us the Picts."

"Us?"

"I am Chrechte as well."

"Oh. I remember hearing of the Picts. They had tattoos like the ones on Lachlan's arm and back," she said as realization dawned. "Does Talorc have them, too?"

"Yes, but the band on his arm is different from the Balmoral's."

"Didn't the Picts have their own king until MacAlpin joined the clans from the Highlands and the Lowlands under one Scottish king?"

"Yes. When he declared himself king and used deception to murder the remaining royal Chrechte, our people were devastated. After much argument and discord, it was finally decided in a council that we would join the Celtic clans. Though it was over a century ago, the Chrechte have never forgotten MacAlpin's treachery."

"I see. So, even though the king that now rules Scotland did not perpetrate the original betrayal, the Chrechte do not submit to him fully."

"No Highlander would submit fully to any rule but that of the clan chief. The current king is more English than Scottish anyway. He'll turn Scotland into a Norman outpost if the people let him."

Emily wasn't bothered by Cait's feelings. She understood them. Scotland was not England and therefore should not have a king who tried so hard to emulate the English way of life. There were many in England who were similarly incensed over the way the English royal court so closely followed traditions established in France.

"I think I understand your brother's behavior better. I can imagine he was well and truly offended to have a king he only grudgingly serves dictate his choice of wife."

"Offended is a mild word for the way the whole clan felt."

"Except you."

Cait gave a tiny laugh. "Oh, I was offended too until I met you. I liked you on sight, Emily."

Tears pricked her eyes and Emily blinked them away. She was being maudlin and it was silly. "I am glad. I liked you, too."

Cait squeezed her hand. "Even if you do not marry my brother, I will always consider you my sister."

One of the tears spilled over and Emily hastily wiped it away after returning the affectionate gesture. "Thank you. I feel the same."

"Emily"

"Yes?"

"I was worried about you for a reason."

"Because Lachlan had locked me in a tower? I appreciate your concern, but you should not worry. I am fine, as you can see, and the door is no longer even locked."

"Truthfully, that was only part of it." Cait paused and looked like she was trying to find words. "Moira said that Lachlan took you swimming this morning."

Emily smiled, remembering her triumph of almost floating alone. "Yes. It was wonderful. He is teaching me to swim so I will not fear the water any longer."

"He is?" Cait asked as if such a thing were too astounding to be believed. "So you won't be afraid?"

"Oh, yes. And he's a very patient teacher. You wouldn't think so by the way he acts the rest of the time, but he did not yell at me once."

"I see I think." Cait frowned and sighed. "Actually, I don't understand anything."

"What do you mean?"

"His patience and the kindness in teaching you to swim it doesn't fit with what I was thinking about him."

"What were you thinking?" Emily asked, not surprised Cait was confused by this side of Lachlan.

She was as well. The man could order the kidnapping of two innocent women to assuage his pride and then go out of his way to help her conquer a lifelong fear. She'd read of a creature who changed color with its surroundings and wondered if Lachlan wasn't a bit like that.

"Well, I do not believe Susannah lied. She is really too sweet to have done so," Cait said as if trying to convince Emily. "Besides, why would she lie? Unless she was afraid Magnus would think less of her otherwise. Yes, that is possible, maybe even probable. Only I had about convinced myself that Lachlan was the one who was lying, you see."

"What? Why would Lachlan lie?"

"Because he wants war with our clan and doesn't want his clan to blame him for starting it, so he sent Susannah off by herself and pretended outrage when the inevitable mating took place."

"I don't see how he could think a woman going off hunting was going to end up married."

"Trust me, in this case, he would have been certain."

"Hmm Even if that is the case, you are attributing terribly devious thoughts to Lachlan and I don't think he's like that."

"You don't think he's capable of deception?"

"Not that exactly, but I think he's too arrogant to believe it's necessary. If he wanted to go to war with your clan, he'd declare war and be done with it. It would never occur to a man of his temperament that he needed to deceive his own people like that. My father's much like him, too arrogant by half."

"Really?" Cait asked, looking diverted.

"Oh, yes. I'm in this mess because of his arrogance. He likes to blame my stepmother because she made the suggestion, but he only does what he wants."

"What did he do?"

"The king issued a call for soldiers and my father sent the bare minimum under his lord and vassal agreement. His stinginess angered our king and in revenge, he decreed that Father had to send one of his daughters north to marry your brother."

"He believed that marriage to my brother was punishment?" Cait asked, outraged.

"Losing his daughter to a marriage that could not benefit him in any way was the punishment," Emily soothed. "A Highland laird is hardly likely to become a baron's ally, even if he is married to the baron's daughter."

"Oh, I see." Cait looked somewhat mollified. "You said one of his daughters. You have sisters?"

"Three. Two are my stepsisters and Margery, the baby, is my half sister. I also have two half brothers."

Cait frowned. "You have a stepmother?" .

"Yes and she's annoying, but she would not betray my father like your and Talorc's stepmother betrayed your clan. Sybil loves my father, but it is a very jealous love."

"That must have been hard for you living with her."

Emily nodded. "But I loved my sisters and brothers. Especially Abigail. She's the reason I cannot return to my father's house." And she explained her fear for her sister and why she had to stay to marry Talorc, no matter what she wanted.

"And do you want something else?" Cait asked when Emily was finished.

She felt herself blushing even though Cait had said nothing embarrassing.

The other woman smiled. "You are attracted to Lachlan."

"How did you know? Is it that obvious? I shouldn't be. He's rude and grumpy and impatient except when he's teaching me to swim. I wouldn't think my feelings for him were so easy to see." After all, more often than not she felt like strangling the man, but here Cait was saying she thought Emily was attracted to him.

Which she was, but still it should not have been evident.

"You cannot learn to swim in a gown," Cait said dryly.

"Oh. Um, no, you can't."

"If he convinced you to take it off, he must have been very persuasive indeed."

"He was."

Cait was back to looking worried. "Talorc will not marry you if Lachlan has mated you."

"Lachlan said he would not breach my maidenhead."

"Oh, my." Cait fanned herself.

Emily straightened her shoulders. "I have determined to allow him to teach me to swim and and other things if he is so inclined."

"The English and Highlanders are different. Talorc would have ripped my throat out for doing similar."

Emily shivered at the gruesome image. "My father would no doubt beat me, but he is not here and I am and when I am with Lachlan like that I am happy. I want to taste happiness before I must submit to duty."

Cait eyes filled with understanding. "Do you love Lachlan?"

"I hope not."

Cait smiled ruefully. "I understand. It would hurt too much, would it not?"

"Yes," Emily whispered.

But then she thought Cait understood only too well. If her wedding night had been so special for her and she was convinced it had not been for Drustan, the pain of caring was already in her heart. Emily could only hope the Balmoral soldier would realize quickly what a treasure he had in Cait.

A peremptory knock sounded on the door and then it opened. Drustan stood in the opening, his expression void of emotion. "It is time to go down for the nooning meal."

"Is Emily to come, too?" Cait asked.

"Yes."

Relief brought a smile to Emily's face. So, she was free to leave her room. That was very good news. She would also see Lachlan. Her heart sped at the thought.

Lachlan was sitting in the center chair at a long table at the far end of the hall when Emily, Drustan and Cait walked in. All of the other places were taken at his table except for two to his right. No doubt who those were for: Drustan and Cait.

Emily looked around for a place to sit herself and saw an empty spot at the table where Angus sat. Ulf was also at that table, but that could not be helped. She would know at least one person.

She told Cait where she was going and why and started her way toward Angus's table. The soldier saw her when she'd drawn near and nodded in greeting. She nodded back and he bumped the man beside him, forcing him to move on the bench so the empty spot at the table was beside Angus.

Emily smiled her gratitude, but before she could sit down a strange look came over Angus's features and the blood drained from his face. Two of the other soldiers at the table looked up as well, their features expressing shock. All three of the soldiers looked toward Lachlan. He was scowling, which was nothing new really, but he hadn't been doing so when she first entered the great hall.

Angus jumped up from the bench. "I believe the laird wants you to sit at his table, Miss Emily."

"I'm sure you are wrong. There is no place for me at that table."

"I believe he has just instructed one of the soldiers to move to a different table."

She shook her head. "I'm sure you are mistaken."

"No. I am not. I just heard him."

"You couldn't possibly hear your laird over this din." There were at least seventy-five soldiers eating in the hall and the noise was enough to mask even a loudly spoken conversation.

Emily grabbed Angus's arm, so she could step over the bench to take her seat without falling.

The soldier went absolutely still. "Please, Miss Emily, do not touch me. I like my throat just the way it is."

Emily didn't understand Angus's comment about his throat, but she yanked her hand back from touching him. Had her action been considered forward? None of her father's soldiers would have thought so, but this was not her father's keep and these men bore little resemblance to English soldiers.

"I am sorry. I didn't mean"

"The laird would like you to join him," Angus said urgently.

She couldn't understand what was wrong with the soldier, but she turned obligingly so she could see Lachlan again. Sure enough, the spot to his left was empty now and he crooked his finger at her. She stared, unsure what to do. His summons and the attention she was receiving from the others in the hall embarrassed her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed her friend looked worried again, but her gaze was not on Emily. It was on Lachlan. What had the laird done to upset Cait?

"Miss Emily?" Angus asked, sounding harried.

"Yes?"

"Would you like me to escort you to the laird's table?"

"That would be nice, thank you, Angus."

The soldier nodded and led the way, his movements jerky, like he was nervous. When they reached the head table, he left her standing beside Lachlan with a quick farewell.

Lachlan wasn't looking at her. He was talking to Drustan, so she scooted around both men to lean over and whisper in Cait's ear, "Are you all right? You're looking worried again."

"We'll talk about it later in the tower room. But I think you had better sit down, Emily."

Emily did as her friend suggested and then was surprised to find Lachlan serving her. It was really very odd. Her father would never have served anyone but Sybil, even the most important guest and especially not a female one.

Emily could not figure out why Lachlan had made a point of having her sit beside him because he ignored her for most of the meal. She was too shy to speak to anyone at first, but the priest was seated across the table and he was quite friendly. She also found the soldier to her left very amiable and by the time she had eaten and drank a single cup of wine, she was feeling much more comfortable and sharing in the conversation.

She leaned across the table, not wanting her voice overheard and said, "Father?"

"Yes?"

"I was wondering something about the marriage sacrament last evening."

"What was that, child?"

"Doesn't the Church stipulate that the Sacrament must be spoken in the morning?"

"That is Rome's tradition, yes."

"But you spoke it last night," she emphasized.

"That was my laird's will."

"But is it valid then?"

The priest looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "You're wanting to know if the marriage ceremony I spoke last night was valid?" he asked, making no attempt to keep his voice down.

Conversation stilled around them and suddenly, Emily was the cynosure of all eyes. She felt heat climb into her face and fervently wished she'd kept her question for another time. But since she hadn't, she might as well brazen it out now.

"I am concerned for my friend's standing with God and the Church. Surely you can understand why. If her marriage Sacrament was not valid, neither is her marriage." She wished Lachlan had thought of that before commanding the holy man to do his duty in such an extraordinary way.

"I assure you the marriage is valid."

"Recognized by the Church?" Emily pressed.

"Yes."

"Oh." She still wasn't convinced.

"The marriage is valid," Lachlan said, speaking to her for the first time since she had sat down.

She frowned at him for his arrogance. "Are you implying that not only are you above the king when you feel like it, but the Pope as well?"

"Do you think to try to give my wife an excuse to run from me?" Drustan asked in a hard voice before his laird could answer her impudence.

Emily shook her head vehemently. "Oh, no. That would not be in her best interests after well after. If you know what I mean. It is the next day, after all. I am merely concerned for her standing with the Church, but if the priest is not worried, then I realize I should not be either."

"The marriage Sacrament is no less holy spoken at night than in the morning," the priest hastily intervened. "There are dispensations for unusual circumstances to almost all of Rome's traditions."

"There are?"

"Especially here in the Highlands," Lachlan said in a mocking voice.

"Why especially here?"

"Because it was the king who chose to follow Rome's dictates, not the lairds."

"But the lairds must follow the dictates of their king." Even if they grudged him his place of power.

"Must we?"

"You speak treason."

"Nay, simple truth."

The others around them nodded their agreement. Even Cait. And Emily stifled the urge to argue further. The Highlanders saw the world differently and that was that.

One thing was certain. They all believed Cait to be well and truly married.

Thank goodness.


Chapter 11 | Moon Awakening | Chapter 13