The envoy accepted more wine and continued to talk about his impressions of the MacHugh laird. He didn’t notice Coswold’s distress.
While he chatted amicably about the wedded couple, Coswold stared straight ahead, gripping his goblet so tightly the rim began to bend from the pressure. His throat burned with the bile rising from his stomach. It took all his control not to scream his fury. Too late. It was too late. Gabrielle had once again eluded his grasp. Was the treasure lost to him as well?
Whenever the envoy paused, Coswold nodded encouragement and refilled his goblet. After so much wine, the envoy’s words began to slur, and his eyelids grew heavy. “I am sleepy,” he said and started to rise.
Coswold hurriedly offered him more cheese and bread. “You will sleep better on a full stomach,” he said, smiling broadly when the envoy reached for the food.
“What other news did you hear?” Coswold asked. “The MacHughs are such a curious group of people. I find them fascinating,” he added so that the envoy would not discern a deeper motive. By morning, he doubted the drunken man would remember anything he’d said.
“While I was waiting for Lady MacHugh to come back outside, I ate a variety of interesting foods. There was a sweetbread I much enjoyed…”
Coswold let him ramble, hoping he would hear something of interest.
“They were celebrating,” the envoy said, yawning. A piece of cheese was stuck between his teeth, and Coswold looked away. The drunkard’s behavior was becoming more and more disgusting.
“Celebrating what?” he asked, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice.
“Finney’s…” He seemed to have lost his train of thought.
“They were celebrating the news that Finney’s Flat is now theirs?” Coswold prodded.
“Yes, yes. It belongs to them.”
“Was there mention of anything else their laird would receive?”
The envoy blinked several times, trying to focus. “What?”
“Gold,” Coswold muttered. “Was there mention of gold?”
The envoy scratched his chin. “No, no gold.”
Despair was drowning Coswold, and he slumped into the chair and buried his face in his hand. “Lost,” he whispered.
He thought the envoy had fallen asleep, but he was mistaken.
“What say you?” Coswold asked sharply.
“St. Biel. There is treasure.”
“They know about the treasure?” he demanded. He shook the envoy to get him alert enough to continue.
“The priest…he said they will get the treasure…” he mumbled.
Coswold leaned closer to the man so that he could hear each word. “Did anyone say where this treasure is?”
“No…Lady MacHugh…Lady MacHugh said…”
Coswold grabbed the man’s shoulders. “What did Lady MacHugh say about the treasure?”
The man’s head rolled to the side. “She said the laird gets the land…but he will not have the treasure.”
Coswold dropped the man’s shoulders and stood back. Perhaps it was not too late after all.
C OLM WAS A POSSESSIVE MAN. HE KEPT A WATCHFUL EYE on Gabrielle and found that he didn’t like any man standing too close to her or staring overly long.
In the days since their marriage, he hadn’t relaxed his guard. One evening after supper, Liam and Colm were alone in the great hall. While Willa and Maurna cleared the table, Liam decided to bring up his brother’s intense watchfulness.
“Come and stand by the fire, Colm, so that I may speak to you in private.”
Liam knelt on one knee and tossed a fat log into the fire, then pulled a chair closer to the heat and sat down.
Colm leaned against the hearth and waited to hear what his brother had to say.
“Do you have reason to distrust Gabrielle?” Liam asked.
The question offended Colm, but he knew Liam wasn’t trying to insult him or Gabrielle. “Of course not,” he muttered.
Liam nodded. “You are right to trust her. She would never be untrue to you. I see where her heart belongs.”
“And where might that be?”
His brother laughed. “You cannot be that blind. You know she loves you.”
Colm didn’t acknowledge Liam’s words. Love was for women to talk about, not warriors.
“Why did you ask me if I distrusted her when you already held the answer?”
“Because of the way you act. You behave like a jealous man.”
“I am not jealous. I guard what is mine. Gabrielle deserves as much protection as any other member of my clan.”
“She is your wife, Colm.”
“And I will guard her well.”
Gabrielle caught their attention when she appeared on the stairs. She stepped to the side and waited while two of Colm’s men carried up her trunk.
“Gabrielle, why are you taking salt to your room?”
As the men passed her she told them, “Put it across the hearth in my chamber, please.”
“I’ll show them where it should go,” Maurna called out as she hurried to help. “But milady, why is it you want a trunk of salt in your room?”
“It isn’t salt,” she explained to Maurna. And then to Colm and Liam she said, “If you’ll remember, Colm, I told you that all but one of the trunks were filled with salt. It took forever to find the right trunk, and as luck would have it, it was on the bottom of the stack.”
“You will wear the MacHugh colors. You have no need of English clothes,” he answered.
“I may not need them, but I’m still going to keep them. There are other things in the trunk as well, reminders and memories of Wellingshire and St. Biel.”
“Good God, Gabrielle, you’ve got enough reminders of St. Biel,” Liam said. “Colm, did you see the size of the statue the abbot sent? It’s in the storage room until you build Gelroy a chapel. Then it will go inside the church.”
“No, Liam,” Gabrielle said. “It doesn’t go inside. It stays outside by the door so that all will see it as they go in. It is tradition.”
“None of the statues in St. Biel are inside churches?”
“Of course not. We pray to God, not to statues.”
Liam had stood when she entered the room, but once she was seated, he returned to his chair.
“Is it true that another statue is coming from your father?”
“Yes. It belonged to my mother, and now that I am married it will come to me. It’s tradition.”
“Any others on their way here?” Colm drawled.
“Just a dozen or so,” she teased.
She was laughing at their reaction when her guards requested to speak to her. She took one look at her faithful guards’ serious faces and knew immediately what they were going to tell her: they were going home.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and desperately tried to hold back the tears. It would be wrong for her to cry. She glanced at Colm and could tell from his expression that the guards had already spoken to him. She slowly walked over to them and folded her hands as though in prayer.
“You’re going home.”
She looked at Stephen as she made the statement.
“It is time, Princess. We are now convinced that your laird will keep you safe.”
She took his hand in hers and said, “You have been my truest friend, Stephen. I do not know how I will ever go on without you.”
He bowed to her and stepped back. Gabrielle clasped Lucien’s hand next. “We have had many misadventures together, have we not? I think you will be happy to be rid of me.”
“Nay, I will not, Princess. I will miss you, but I will always carry you in my heart.”
Faust was next in line. She took his hand and said, “Can you believe it, Faust? You will soon see St. Biel’s mountains.”
“I shall miss you, Princess.”
Christien was last. She touched his hand and said, “You have saved me from death too many times to count. I owe you my life, Christien, and I will miss you.”
“You will not have to miss me long, Princess. I will be back. I will know when it is time.”
They bowed low and took their leave. A single tear trickled down her cheek. Without a word, Gabrielle left the hall and went up to her room.
Colm knew she needed to be alone. He waited as long as he could, and then he went to her chamber. She was curled up on the bed, weeping. He gathered her in his arms and comforted her the only way he knew. He let her cry.
F ATHER GELROY HELPED HER DEAL WITH HER LOSS BY making her feel guilty.
“Of course you miss your guards. They’ve been like older brothers to you all these years, but you’ve got to think about them finding their own path. St. Biel is their home, and you should have joy in your heart that they can now return to their lives there.”
Gabrielle knew the holy man was right, but it was still difficult for her to find joy when she missed them so much. Fortunately, she was kept busy and had little time to mope.
The clan made it easy for her to settle into their way of life. Gabrielle had won them over when they heard that she had killed a man to keep Liam safe. She earned their love and respect when she married their laird and gave him Finney’s Flat. Standing up to Lady Joan and putting her in her place showed them that she had a temper, which they considered a fine trait.
Everyone took turns instructing her. Maurna and Willa helped her learn how to be mistress in her home. It was up to Gabrielle to decide the menu for each meal, when the rushes needed to be changed and the bedding aired out, and a thousand other things that made the castle run smoothly.
Neither the housekeeper nor the cook ever said “no” to her or came right out and told her she was wrong about anything. They had a more subtle way to let her know when they felt she’d made a mistake.
“We shall have meat pies for dinner tonight,” Gabrielle told Willa.
The cook shook her head ever so slightly. Gabrielle tried again. “We will have chicken?”
Another quick shake of the head followed that order. Gabrielle sighed. “Mutton then.”
A nod of approval. “Yes, Lady MacHugh. Mutton it will be.”
The stonecutter and the candlemaker instructed her in the goings on with the various clans. They felt it was imperative that their mistress understand all the feuds.
Gabrielle wasn’t even sure where all the clans lived.
“Why is it important for me to know about the feuds?” she asked.
The candlemaker looked astonished that she would ask such a question. He answered with one of his own. “If you don’t know who’s fighting, how will you know who to speak to and who to curse?”
She didn’t have a ready answer for him.
That evening as she prepared for bed, she asked Colm about the clans. “There are so many of them in the Highlands, I cannot keep them straight.”
“Tomorrow I will draw you a map and show you where each clan lives.”
“Will you draw this map before or after you take me to the Buchanans?”
She stepped out of the light while she removed her undergarments and put on her nightgown. Her shyness amused Colm. He was already in bed. He lay on his side and, leaning on his elbow, propped his head up and lazily watched her.
Gabrielle moved back to the fire to warm herself while she brushed the tangles from her hair.
“Why do you put that gown on?” Colm asked. “I’m only going to take it off as soon as you come to bed.”
She put the brush down and turned to him. “I must pay a visit to the Buchanans. Will you take me tomorrow?”
“Lady Gillian is my dearest cousin.”
“You’ve never even met the woman.”
“She is still dear to me.”
“I have duties tomorrow. I cannot.”
“Could someone else take me to the Buchanans?”
“The day after tomorrow?”
“No. Come to bed.”
She stared at him a long minute. “No.”
He didn’t seem fazed by her refusal. She was disappointed, for she hoped to make him angry. She would have stormed out of the room, but she didn’t have anywhere to go. Besides, she couldn’t storm anywhere unless she got dressed. Gabrielle decided there was too much effort required just to irritate him.
It only took a few more seconds for her to admit to herself that she was going to have to get into bed or she would freeze to death. She crossed the room to the side of the bed.
“Just so you understand. I’m not coming to you. I’m coming to bed.”
She started to climb over him to her side of the bed, but with one movement he pulled her gown over her head and she landed hard on his chest. He pushed her legs down, trapping them with his, and then rolled over so that she was pinned beneath him.
He nibbled her neck as he said, “Just so you understand. I’m going to make love to you.”
He had the last word.
GABRIELLE WAS WALKING to the lake with Braeden’s wife, Lily, who was large with their first child. She wasn’t so much timid as shy, and she spoke in a voice barely above a whisper. She was a sweet-tempered woman, and Gabrielle enjoyed her companionship.
“Is this the lake the men swim in?” Gabrielle asked.
“On the far side where we can’t see them. They wouldn’t mind,” Lily said, “but they know we would.”
“Isn’t it a beautiful day? The air is so crisp.” Gabrielle stretched her arms out and let the sun warm her face.
“Wait until you see the lake. It’s clear water,” Lily said. “Freezing to the touch, though. Even in the summer months the water never warms. Just dangling your feet in it will cause your teeth to chatter. I do not know how the men stand it.”
“Thank you for warning me. I will be certain never to test it.”
Gabrielle sat under a tree enjoying this peaceful time of day. The noon meal was finished, but there were still a few hours before supper.
Lily talked about the preparations she was making for the baby, and Gabrielle was about to ask her a question when Ethan and Tom came charging through the trees. Tom was chasing Ethan.
“They should not be here alone,” Lily said.
Gabrielle agreed. She called to the boys. Ethan was trying to outrun Tom, but he couldn’t change direction in time. She watched him trip over his own feet and propel himself into the water.
Lily shouted for help as Gabrielle kicked off her shoes and ran in after the child. The water was so cold she feared her heart would stop. With Tom on the bank wailing, she fished Ethan to the surface and carried him to dry land sputtering and coughing.