"It looks worse than it truly is," Jamie answered.

A col ective sigh made her smile. When she requested additional light, she was almost blinded by the number of candles the soldiers held up for her.

Jamie asked for another goblet of warm water. She opened yet another one of her jars, sprinkled a fair amount of orange powder into the liquid, and then surprised the priest by handing it to him. "Drink this. It will cure your cough," she told him. "I can tel it pains you."

The priest was speechless. Her consideration astonished him. He took a fair gulp, then grimaced. "Drink every bit of it, Father," Jamie ordered.

Like a child, he balked for a minute, then did as she ordered.

Jamie turned her attention to Angus's chest injury. She worked well into the night. The wound was crusted with dirt and dried blood. Jamie was meticulous in her task, for she knew from past experience, and from her mother's instructions, the terrible damage a single fleck of dirt could do if left inside the wound. She didn't understand the reason behind this truth but believed it to be fact all the same. Since the wound was ragged, she used needle and thread to sew the edges together.

Alec had ordered a bed carried into the great hall . He knew Jamie would wish to have her patient nearby, and Angus's cottage was a good distance away.

Angus's wife hadn't spoken another word during the long night. She hadn't moved from her position across from Jamie and watched her every move.

Jamie barely paid her any attention. She'd been bent over the warrior for such a long time that when she finally straightened away from the table, pain rushed up her spine, startling a gasp out of her. She stumbled backwards. Before she could regain her balance, she felt at least a dozen hands on her back bracing her.

"Elizabeth, please help me bandage your husband's chest," she asked, thinking to include the worried-looking woman.

Elizabeth was eager to assist. As soon as the task was done, Alec carried his friend over to the bed.

Jamie and Elizabeth followed behind.

"He'll be spitting mad with pain when he wakes up," Jamie predicted. "You're going to have a bear on your hands, Elizabeth."

"But he will wake up."

There was a smile in Elizabeth's voice. "Aye, he will wake up," Jamie confirmed.

She let Elizabeth tuck the covers around her husband's shoulders before she asked, "Where did Edith and Annie go?"

"Back to their cottage to sleep," Elizabeth answered. She brushed her hand across Angus's brow in a gentle, loving action that told how very much she cared for her husband. "I'm to wake them when Angus… when he dies."

Jamie gave Alec a perplexed look.

Father Murdock started snoring, drawing everyone's attention. The old priest was sprawled in a chair he'd pul ed up next to the table. "Oh, dear," Jamie said. "I forgot to tel him the potion would make him sleepy."

"He can sleep there," Alec announced. He turned to Angus's wife and said, "Elizabeth, go and get some rest. Gavin and I will take turns sitting with your husband until you return."

From the crestfal en look on Elizabeth's face, Jamie could tel she didn't want to leave her husband. Yet she immediately nodded and started for the door. Jamie assumed that obedience to her laird overrode all other considerations.

"Alec, if you were ill , I certainly wouldn't leave your side. Why can't Elizabeth sleep here? She could rest in a chair or perhaps use one of the rooms above the stairs, don't you suppose?"

Elizabeth whirled around. "I would be most comfortable," she interjected.

Alec looked from one woman to the other, then nodded. "Go and gather your things," he said. "You'l sleep in one of the rooms upstairs, Elizabeth.

You must remember your condition. Angus will be angry if he wakes up and finds you exhausted."

Elizabeth made a formal curtsy. "Thank you, milord," she said.

"Marcus? Take Elizabeth to her cottage to get her things," Alec called out.

Jamie stood next to the bed, watching Angus. Elizabeth walked over to her side, hesitated, then reached out to touch her hand. "I would thank you, mistress," she whispered.

"You won't have to wake Edith and Annie," Jamie replied.

Elizabeth smiled. "No, I won't have to wake them." She started to turn away, then changed her mind.

"My son will carry his father's name when he arrives."

"When does this blessed event take place?" Jamie asked.

"In six months' time. And if it's a girl…"

"Yes?"

"I shal name her after you, milady."

Jamie would have laughed if she'd had the strength. She was so exhausted, though, she could only manage a smile. "Did you hear her promise, Alec? Elizabeth doesn't seem to think Jamie is a man's name.

What think you of that."

Elizabeth smiled at Alec, received his nod, and then said, "Jamie? I thought your name was Jane, milady."

Alec laughed for his wife. Elizabeth squeezed Jamie's hand to let her know she was jesting, then left the hall with Marcus.

"Does that man ever smile?" Jamie asked Alec when they were once again alone.

"Who?"

"Marcus."

"Nay, he doesn't, Jamie."

"He dislikes me immensely."

"Aye, he does."

Jamie gave Alec a disgruntled look over his easy compliance, then mixed another potion that was known to chase fever away. She was walking back to the bed when she suddenly realized she hadn't looked at the lower half of Angus's body to see if there were other injuries needing her attention.

She decided to let Alec do the looking while she kept her eyes closed.

"There aren't any other injuries," Alec announced after he'd done as Jamie asked.

Her relief was short-lived. When she opened her eyes, Alec was standing just a foot or so away, smiling down at her. "You're blushing, wife. Answer me this question," he commanded in a soft, teasing voice. "If there had been injury, what would you have done?"

"Repaired it if possible," Jamie answered. "And probably blushed all the while. You must remember, Alec, I'm a mere woman."

She waited for him to contradict her.

"Aye, you are that."

The way he was looking at her made her blush intensify. Whatever was the matter with him? He acted as though he wanted to say something more to her, yet couldn't make up his mind.

"Am I back to looking ugly, husband? I know I must look a mess."

"You were never ugly," Alec answered. He brushed a lock of her hair back over her shoulder. The tender action sent a shiver down her arms. "But you do look a mess."

She didn't know how to take that remark. He was smiling at her, so she guessed he hadn't just insulted her. Or had he? The man did have an odd sense of what was amusing.

The longer he continued to stare at her, the more nervous she became. "Here, make Angus drink this."

She thrust the goblet into his hands.

"For the last several hours you've snapped out orders like a commander on a field of battle, Jamie. Now you act shy with me. What has caused this change?"

"You," Jamie replied. "You make me shy when you stare at me like that."

"'Tis good to know."

"No, it certainly is not good to know," Jamie muttered.

She snatched the goblet out of his hands, hurried over to Angus's side, and nagged her patient into drinking the full portion.

"I want you to wear my plaid," Alec said.

"What?"

"I want you to wear my colors, wife."

"Why?"

"Because you belong to me now," Alec patiently explained.

"I'l wear your plaid when my heart wants to belong to you, Kincaid, and not a minute sooner. What think you of that?"

"I could order you to—"

"But you won't."

Alec smiled. His gentle little wife was beginning to understand him, after all . But he was also learning just how her mind worked. The foolish woman didn't realize her heart had already softened toward him. Stil , he wanted her to admit it. "Did you mean what you said to Elizabeth? Would you have stayed by my side if I'd been wounded?"

"Of course."

She didn't even look over her shoulder when she added, "You can rid yourself of that cocky smile, husband. Any wife would stay by her husband. It's her duty."

"And you would always do your duty."

"I would."

"I will give you two weeks to make up your mind, Jamie, but you will eventual y wear my plaid."

While he watched Jamie, the truth nudged a rather contradictory admission from him. He actually wanted her to care for him. He wanted her to love him. He was, however, quite determined not to love her. His reason was simple: a warrior did not love his wife; he owned her. There was good reason for this, of course: love complicated a relationship. It could also undermine the duties of a laird. No, he could never love Jamie. But he'd be damned if she didn't start to love him soon. "Two weeks."

She didn't need that reminder. "You are very arrogant, husband."

"'Tis good of you to notice."

Alec left the hall before she could stifle her laughter enough to bait him again. His soldiers would be waiting in the courtyard and the bailey below, wishing to hear how their friend was doing. Several hundred men were keeping Angus's deathwatch. They wouldn't take to their pal ets until they'd come inside to see their friend. It was their right, and Alec wouldn't deny them.

Angus was just waking up from his drug-induced sleep when Jamie was closing her eyes. She knelt on the floor, her feet tucked under the hem of her robe. Her long hair was spread like a blanket across her back. Angus groaned when he tried to move his throbbing arm. He wanted to rub the sting away, yet when he tried to move his other hand, he felt someone take hold of him.

He opened his eyes and immediately saw the woman. Her head rested next to his thigh. Her eyes were closed. He didn't know how he knew, but he was certain her eyes were violet, clear, enchanting violet.

Angus thought she was asleep, yet when he tried to pul his hand away from her grasp, she wouldn't let him.

The soldiers began to file into the hall then, drawing his attention. His friends were all smiling at him.

Angus tried to return their greeting. He was in pain, aye, but their smiles told him he was not dying.

Perhaps, he thought, the last rites he'd overheard were for someone else.

Alec, with Gavin at his side, stood near the entrance, waiting. Alec stared at his wife, but Gavin watched the men.

It was a magical moment, by Gavin's reckoning. The soldiers looked stunned by the sight they witnessed.

One and all knew Lady Kincaid had saved their friend from certain death. Angus's weak smile confirmed the miracle.

The hall could only hold a third of their number, yet when the first man knelt down and bowed his head, the others followed his lead, until even the soldiers outside were kneeling.

It was a united show of loyalty, Alec knew, but it wasn't for Angus that the soldiers knelt. No, Angus was their equal. They wouldn't kneel before him.

The soldiers were now giving Lady Kincaid their loyalty, their complete trust.

And his wife slept through their silent pledge.

"I boasted it would take her a long time to earn their trust," Gavin told Alec. "I was wrong. It has taken her less than one day."

Marcus, with his sister Edith, walked into the hall just as the last of the soldiers filed past. They waited by Gavin's side, until Elizabeth, holding on to Annie's hand, caught up with them.

"Do you see, Annie? I told you Angus was better. Look how he's smiling." Elizabeth whispered her happy news, then dropped Annie's hand to rush forward to her husband's side.

"Lady Kincaid saved Angus," Gavin told Marcus." 'Tis a time for joy, my friend, not anger. Why do you frown so?"

"Angus would have made it with or without Lady Kincaid's assistance. It was God's decision, not hers."

The harshness in his tone turned Alec's attention to him. "You do not accept my wife, Marcus?" he asked, his voice deceptively mild.

The warrior immediately shook his head. "I accept her because she's your wife, Alec, and I would protect her with my life," he added. "But she won't win my loyalty so easily."

Anna and Edith stood by Marcus's side, mimicking his frown as they listened to the conversation. Alec looked at each one, then spoke again. "Al of you will make her welcome. Do you understand me?"

The women immediately nodded their compliance. Marcus took a bit longer to agree. "Have you forgotten our Helena so soon, Alec?"

"It's been almost three years," Gavin interjected.

"I haven't forgotten," Alec announced.

"Then why—"

"I married to please my king, Marcus, and you damn well know it. Before you turn your back on my wife, remember this, all of you. Jamie also married by command from her king. She didn't want this marriage any more than I did. Honor her for doing her duty."

"She really didn't wish to marry you?" Annie asked. Her brown eyes mirrored her surprise.

Alec shook his head. "The only reason I discuss such matters with you, Annie, is because of your sister, Helena. Jamie was pledged to another man. Why would she want to marry me?"

"The English dislike us as much as we dislike them," Gavin interjected.

"Your wife doesn't know how fortunate she is," Annie shyly interjected.

Alec smiled at the sincerity in Annie's voice. He left the three staring after him as he walked over to his sleeping wife and gently lifted her into his arms. He held her close against his chest.

Gavin followed behind, thinking to take over the watch by Angus's side.

"I wonder, Alec, how long it's going to take your wife to accept us?" he remarked.

"Little time at all ," Alec predicted. He started toward his bed, then called over his shoulder, "She'll settle in, Gavin. You'l see."

Chapter Eleven

She started three wars the first week.

Jamie's intentions were quite honorable. She'd decided to make the best of her situation, accepting the fact that she was married to a laird now.

She would do her duty as his wife and take care of him and his household. No matter how difficult the adjustment might be for Alec, she wouldn't shirk her obligations.




Line : 119

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