"Will you be returning to England for a stay in future?" she asked, trying to sound as if she thought that odious idea had an ounce of merit.

"It would take a war to bring me back."

"You needn't sound so cheerful over that possibility," Jamie countered before she thought better of it. She let him see her frown, too, and didn't care if she offended him. The man was as blunt as a cudgel. And if he wasn't going to be polite, then she wasn't going to bother with her manners either.

She tossed her hair over her shoulder, turned her back on Alec, and slowly walked away from him. " 'Tis already high afternoon, Kincaid," she called over her shoulder. "You'd best be on your way, for I'm sure you have a good distance to cover before the day is finished."

She almost added that it had been a pleasure to meet him, but the lie would have cost her another novena so she kept silent.

Jamie had just reached the table when her husband's hard command stopped her cold.

"Gather your things and say farewel to your family, Jamie, while Daniel and I see to the horses. Be quick about it."

"You as well , Mary," Daniel interjected in that cheerful voice of his that was beginning to drive Jamie wild.

"Why must we hurry?" Mary asked.

"Alec and I have vowed not to sleep on English soil another night. We've a good distance to cover before darkness sets in."

Jamie whirled around just in time to watch the two Scotsmen walk out of the room. Her hands gripped the table edge behind her back. "Kincaid?

You're supposed to leave me here," she called out. "This is just a marriage of convenience, isn't it?"

He stopped in the center of the hall way, then turned around to face her. "Aye, wife, it is a marriage of convenience. My convenience. Do you understand me?"

She ignored his angry tone of voice and his harsh expression. "No, Kincaid, I don't understand."

She'd tried to sound as arrogant as he looked, yet knew her effort was ruined by the tremor in her voice.

Her bluster of anger didn't fool him. He knew she was frightened; his smile told her so. "In time I promise that you will understand. I give you my word."

She didn't want his word, but she didn't think that was going to matter very much to him. He really was a warlord from hel , after all . She wasn't up to arguing with him, either. Her eyes fil ed with tears just as soon as he disappeared out the doorway, and all she wanted to do was throw herself into the closest chair and have a good cry.

She was too upset to think about gathering her possessions. The twins took care of that task, all owing Jamie precious time with her father.

By the time Agnes and Alice returned to the great hall , Mary was in a fine state of nerves. She could barely stammer out her farewel before rushing out of the room.

"I'l have the rest of your things packed careful y, Jamie, and sent on to you within a week's time," Agnes vowed. "These Highlands can't be very far away."

"I'l pack your beautiful tapestries," Alice interjected. "I promise I won't forget anything. In no time at all you'l be feeling right at home."

"Alice, I already told Jamie I'd take care of that chore," Agnes muttered. "Honestly, sister, you're always trying to better me. Oh, Jamie? I put your mama's shawl in your satchel with your medicine jars."

"Thank you, sisters," Jamie said. She quickly hugged them both. "Oh, I'm going to miss you two. You're such dear sisters."

"Jamie, you're so very brave," Agnes whispered. "You look so calm, so serene. I'd be daft by now.

You're married to the one who—"

"You needn't remind her," Alice muttered. "She couldn't have forgotten he kil ed his first wife, sister."

"We aren't absolutely sure," her twin argued.

Jamie wished the twins would stop trying to comfort her.

Their reminders about Alec Kincaid were making her more upset than ever.

Baron Jamison tugged on Jamie's skirt to get her attention. "I'l be dead in a week, I will . Who will see to my meals? Who will listen to my stories?"

"Now, Papa, Agnes and Alice will take good care of you. You're going to be just fine," she soothed. She bent over her father, kissed his forehead, and then added, "Please don't carry on so. Mary and I will come to see you and…"

She couldn't finish her lie, couldn't tel her father it was going to be all right. Her world had just ended; everything that was familiar and safe was being snatched away.

It was Agnes who whispered Jamie's greatest fear aloud. "We're never going to see you again, are we, Jamie? He won't let you come home, will he?"

"I promise you I'l find a way to come and see you," Jamie vowed. Her voice shook and her eyes stung with unshed tears. Dear God, this leave-taking was painful.

Baron Jamison kept muttering between his sobs that the Scots had robbed him of his precious babies and how in God's name was he ever going to get along without them? Although Jamie tried to console her father, in the end it proved to be a useless undertaking. Papa didn't want to quiet down. The more Jamie tried, the louder he wailed.

Beak came to fetch her. A smal tug-of-war resulted when he tried to separate father from daughter.

Baron Jamison wouldn't let go of Jamie's hand. The task was finally won when Jamie gave assistance.

"Come along, Jamie. 'Tis best not to anger your new husband. He's waiting patiently in the courtyard for you. Lord Daniel and Lady Mary have already started toward Scotland, lass. Come with me now. A new life awaits you."

Beak's soft voice helped to soothe Jamie. She took hold of his hand and walked by his side toward the entrance. When she paused to give her family one last farewel , Beak nudged her forward.

"Don't be looking back, Jamie. And quit your shivering. Start thinking about your happy future."

"It's my future that has me shivering," Jamie confessed.

"Beak, I don't know anything about this husband of mine. all the black rumors about him make me worry. I don't want to be married to him."

"What's done is done," Beak announced. "There's two ways to look at this, lass. You can go into this marriage with your eyes closed tight against your man and be miserable for the rest of your days, or you can open them real wide, accept your husband, and make the best of your life."

"I don't want to hate him."

Beak smiled. Jamie had sounded so pitiful y forlorn. "Then don't hate him," he advised. "You ain't any good at hating anyway. Your heart's too tender, girl. Besides," he continued as he nudged her farther ahead, "it ain't so unordinary after all ."

"What isn't so unordinary?"

"Many a bride goes to her wedding without knowing her mate."

"But those brides were English, Beak, marrying Englishmen."

"Hush, now," Beak ordered, hearing the fear in her voice. "He's a good man, this Kincaid. I took his measure, Jamie. He'l treat you right."

"How would you know that?" Jamie asked. She tried to stop and turn to face Beak but he kept nudging her forward. "There's that rumor, if you'l remember, that he kil ed his first wife."

"And you believe it?"

Her answer was immediate. "I don't."

"Why not?"

Jamie shrugged. "I can't explain it," she whispered. "I just think he wouldn't…" She let out a sigh, then added, "You'l think me daft, Beak, but his eyes… well , he isn't an evil man."

"I happen to know for fact it's a lie," Beak announced. "He didn't kil her. I put the question to him, Jamie, asked him right out."

"You didn't." His outrageous statement made her laugh. "Beak, he must have been furious with you."

"Spit," Beak whispered. "Your future was my concern, not his anger," he boasted. "Of course, it was only after I heard he was going to choose you that I asked him anything, you understand."

"When did you have time?" Jamie asked, frowning.

"Ain't important," Beak said hurriedly. "Besides, I knew Kincaid was a good one as soon as I looked real close at his horse." He gave Jamie another gentle prod between her shoulderblades to get her moving toward her husband again. "This warrior's going to treat you with just as much care."

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Jamie muttered. "You've been a stable master too many years, old friend.

There's a difference between a wife and a horse. I can see you believe this nonsense you're tel ing me.

You're looking very pleased with yourself."

"And feeling pleased," Beak boasted. "I just got you clean outside without having to drag you none, now, didn't I?"

He knew his comment startled her, for her eyes widened and he had to nudge her again when she came to an abrupt stop.

Alec was standing in the center of the courtyard next to his mount. His expression didn't give her a guess as to what he was thinking, but Jamie didn't believe he'd been patiently waiting for her arrival, as Beak had said. No, the Kincaid didn't look like the patient sort at all .

Alec was certain she was going to cause an uproar when they reached the Highlands. He held her gaze a long minute, wondering to himself just when he was going to get accustomed to her. Her eyes were the most vivid shade of violet he'd ever seen.

There was blue and then there was blue. Beak had made that odd remark, Alec remembered. Now he understood what the stable master meant.

He couldn't all ow her to captivate him this way. Her mouth was too damned appealing for his peace of mind. Yes, she was going to cause an upset al right, whether she realized it or not, Alec mused, for though he was certain none of his clansmen would dare to touch what belonged to him, their thoughts would certainly be strol ing in that direction.

The woman was simply too appealing for her own good. She was stil frightened of him. Alec told himself that was a good beginning. A wife should always be a bit uncertain of her husband. Yet her fear irritated him, too. He would have ordered her to get on her mount and be quick about it if he hadn't seen the apprehension in her gaze. She reminded him of a deer just picking up the scent of danger.

It was high time he took control, he decided.

Alec gained his stal ion's back in one fluid motion. The great black horse pranced a nervous sidestep into Wildfire's flanks. Jamie's horse was already in a prickly state, having been forced to stand next to a male whose scent she was unfamiliar with, and immediately tried to rear up. Alec reached over, grabbed the reins from the inattentive groom, and commanded the mare to settle down.

Wildfire immediately obeyed.

Beak heard Jamie's in-drawn breath, noticed the way she stared at the Scottish warrior, and came to the conclusion she might be in jeopardy of fainting. He put his hand on her shoulder again.

"Get your gumption back, girl. Ain't going to make you feel any better if you disgrace yourself by swooning. I taught you better, didn't I?"

The grumbled words got her immediate attention. Jamie straightened away from the stable master. "There isn't going to be any swooning," she muttered. "You insult me by suggesting I have such a weakness."

Beak hid his smile. He wasn't going to have to nudge her forward any longer. The fire was back in her eyes.

With the grace befitting royalty, Jamie lifted the hem of her gown and walked over to her mount. Beak helped her get settled on Wildfire's back, then reached up to pat her hand. "Now, give this old man your promise to get along with your husband," he ordered. "It's a sacred commandment, if you'l remember," he added with an outrageous wink.

"It is not a commandment," Jamie announced.

"It is in the Highlands."

Alec had made that statement. He had sounded as though he meant what he said, too. Jamie gave him a disgruntled look before turning back to Beak.

The stable master was smiling at her husband. "You'l remember your promise to me, Laird Kincaid?"

Alec nodded. He tossed Wildfire's reins to Jamie, goaded his stal ion forward, and left Jamie staring after him.

He wasn't going to wait for her. Jamie held Wildfire steady, determined to see just how far Alec would ride before he stopped to wait for her. When horse and rider disappeared across the drawbridge and out of sight, she came to the conclusion he wasn't going to wait at all . The man hadn't even bothered to glance back over his shoulder.

"What did you mean when you asked him to remember his promise to you?" Jamie asked almost absentmindedly while she stared at the drawbridge.

"Nothing to concern yourself with," Beak said quickly.

Jamie turned to look at him. "Out with it, Beak," she commanded.

"I just had a little talk with him, Jamie, about your… innocence."

"I don't understand."

"Well, now, there's going to have to be a wedding night, lass. Since I was the one who told you about the ways between a man and a woman, I thought I'd caution your husband—"

"Oh, God, you talked about that?"

"I did. He promised to be careful with you, Jamie. He'l try not to hurt you much the first time."

Jamie knew her cheeks were flaming red with embarrassment. "I'm never going to let him touch me, Beak, so your gaining his promise was all for naught."

"Now, Jamie, don't sound so stubborn. I was afeard for you. 'Tis the truth I didn't tel you much about the actual mating ways. I explained to Kincaid that you didn't understand much about—"

"I don't want to hear any more of this talk. He'l never touch me and that's that."

Beak let out a loud sigh. "You're in for a surprise, then, me girl. The way he looks at you tel s me he'l be taking you at first chance. Might as well accept that in your stubborn mind, Jamie. Just do what he tel s you and you'l come out all right."

"Do what he tel s me?"

"Now, lass, don't raise your voice to me. You'd best be moving on, Jamie," he urged.

Jamie shook her head. "I'l go in a minute, Beak. First I must gain your promise you'l come after me if there's trouble here."

"Trouble? What kind of trouble?"

She couldn't quite look him in the eye when she whispered her explanation. "It seems that Papa took some gold coins from Andrew. It was a loan, Beak, and not a dowry, but I'm stil worried. I don't know how Papa will be able to pay Andrew back."




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