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They say he killed his first wife.
Papa said maybe she needed killing. It was a most unfortunate remark for a father to make in front of his daughters, and Baron Jamison realized his blunder as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He was, of course, immediately made sorry for blurting out his unkind comment.
Three of his four daughters had already taken to heart the foul gossip about Alec Kincaid. They didn't much care for their father's view on the atrocity, either. The baron's twins, Agnes and Alice, wept loudly and, as was their particularly irritating habit, in unison as well, while their usually sweet-tempered sister Mary marched a brisk path around the oblong table in the great hall, where their confused father sat slumped over a goblet of guilt-soothing ale. In between the twins' noisy choruses of outrage, his gentle little Mary interjected one sinful tattle after another she'd heard about the Highland warrior who would be arriving at their home in a paltry week's time.
Mary, deliberately or nay, was stirring the twins into a full lather of snorting and screeching. It was enough to try the patience of the devil himself.
Papa tried to give the Scotsman his full defense. Since he'd never actually met the warrior, or heard anything but ill, unrepeatable rumors about the man's black character, he was therefore forced to make up all his favorable remarks.
And all for naught.
Aye, it was wasted effort on his part, for his daughters weren't paying the least attention to what he was saying. That shouldn't have surprised him, he realized with a grunt and a good belch; his angels never listened to his opinions.
The baron was terribly inept at soothing his daughters when they were in a state, a fact that hadn't particularly bothered him until today. Now however, he felt it most important to gain the upper hand. He didn't want to look the fool in front of his uninvited guests, be they Scots or nay, and fool he'd certainly be called if his daughters continued to ignore his instructions.
After downing a third gulp of ale, the baron summoned up a bit of gumption. He slammed his fist down on the wooden table as an attention-getter, then announced that all this talk about the Scotsman being a murderer was nonsense.
When that statement didn't get any reaction or notice, his irritation got the better of him. All right, then, he decided, if all the gossip turned true, then mayhap the Scotsman's wife had been deserving of the foul deed. It had probably just started out as a proper thrashing, he speculated, and as things had a way of doing, the beating had gotten a wee bit out of hand.
That explanation made perfectly good sense to Baron Jamison. His comments gained him an attentive audience, too, but the incredulous looks on his daughters' faces weren't the result he'd hoped to accomplish. His precious angels stared at him in horror, as if they'd just spotted a giant leech hanging off the tip of his nose. They thought him daft, he suddenly realized. The baron's weak temper exploded full measure then, and he bellowed that the sorry woman had probably sassed her lord back once too often. It was a lesson that his disrespectful daughters would do well to take to heart.
The baron had only meant to put the fear of God and father into his daughters. He knew he'd failed in the extreme when the twins started shouting again. The sound made his head ache. He cupped his hands over his ears to block out the grating noise, then closed his eyes against the hot glare Mary was giving him. The baron actually slumped lower in his chair, until his knobby knees were scraping the floor. His head was bent, his gumption gone, and in desperation, he turned to his faithful servant, Herman, and ordered him to fetch his youngest daughter.
The gray-haired servant looked relieved by the order, nodding several times before shuffling out of the room to do his lord's bidding. The baron could have sworn on the Holy Cross that he heard the servant mutter under his breath that it was high time that order was given.
A scant ten minutes elapsed before the baron's namesake walked into the middle of the chaos. Baron Jamison immediately straightened in his chair. After giving Herman a good glare to let him know he'd heard his whispered criticism, he let go of his scowl. And when he turned to watch his youngest, he let out a long sigh of relief.
His Jamie would take charge.
Baron Jamison realized he was smiling now, then admitted to himself that it just wasn't possible to stay sour when his Jamie was near.
She was such a bewitching sight, so pleasing to look upon, in fact, that a man could forget all his worries. Her presence was as commanding as her beauty, too. Jamie had been endowed with her mama's handsome looks. She had long raven-colored hair, violet eyes that reminded her papa of springtime, and skin as flawless and pure as her heart.
Although the baron boasted of loving all his daughters, in secret, Jamie was his pride and joy. It was a most amazing fact, considering he wasn't her true blood father. Jamie's mother was the baron's second wife. She had come to him when she was nearly full term with her daughter. The man who'd fathered Jamie had died in battle, a bare month after wedding and bedding his bride.
The baron had accepted the infant as his own, forbidding anyone to refer to her as his stepdaughter. From the moment he'd first held her in his arms, she had belonged to him.
Jamie was the youngest and the most magnificent of his angels. The twins, and Mary as well, were gifted with a quiet beauty, the kind that grew on a man with time and notice, but his dear little Jamie, with just one look, could fairly knock the wind out of a man. Her smile had been known to nudge a knight clear off his mount, or so her papa liked to exaggerate to his friends.
Yet there was no petty jealousy among his girls. Agnes, Alice, and Mary instinctively turned to their little sister for guidance in all matters of significance. They leaned on her almost as often as their papa did.
Jamie was now the true mistress of their home. Since the day of her mama's burial, his youngest had taken on that burden. She'd proven her value early, and the baron, liking order but having no gift for establishing it, had been most relieved to give Jamie full responsibility.
She never disappointed him. Jamie was such a sensible, untroubling daughter. She never cried, either, not since the day her mama passed on. Agnes and Alice would have done well to learn from their sister's disciplined nature, the baron thought. They tended to cry over just about everything. To his mind, their looks saved them from being completely worthless, but still he pitied the lords who would someday be saddled with his emotional daughters.
The baron worried most for his Mary. Though he never voiced the criticism, he knew she was a might more selfish than was considered fashionable. She put her own wants above those of her sisters. The bigger sin, however, was putting herself above her papa.
Aye, Mary was a worry, and a mischief-maker, too. She liked to plow up trouble just for the sheer joy of it. The baron had a nagging suspicion that Jamie was giving Mary unladylike ideas, but he never dared voice that notion, lest he be proven wrong, and fall from grace in his youngest's eyes.
Yet even though Jamie was his favorite, the baron wasn't completely oblivious to her flaws. Her temper, though seldom unleashed, could ignite a forest fire. She had a stubborn crook in her nature, too. She had inherited her mama's skill for healing, even though he'd specifically forbidden that practice. Nay, the baron wasn't pleased with that inclination, for the serfs and the house servants were constantly pulling her away from her primary duty of seeing to his comforts. Jamie was dragged out of her bed during the middle of the night quite frequently to patch up a knife wound or ease a new life into the world. The baron didn't particularly mind the nighttime calls, as he was usually sleeping quite soundly in his own bed and was therefore not inconvenienced, but he took grave exception to the daytime interruptions, especially when he had to wait for his dinner because his daughter was busy tending the injured or sick.
That thought made him sigh with regret. Then he realized the twins had quit their screeching. Jamie had already quieted the storm. Baron Jamison motioned to his steward to refill his goblet and leaned back to watch his daughter continue to weave her magic.
Agnes, Alice, and Mary had rushed over to their sister the moment she entered the room. Each was trying to tell a different version of the story.
Jamie couldn't make any sense out of their comments. "Come and sit with Papa at the table," she suggested in her husky voice. "Then we shall sort through this new problem like a family," she added with a coaxing smile.
" 'Tis more than a mere problem this time," Alice wailed, mopping at the corners of her eyes. "I don't think this can be sorted out, Jamie. Truly I don't."
"Papa's done it this time," Agnes muttered. The younger twin dragged out one of the stools from under the table, sat down, and gave her father a fierce glare. "As usual, this is all his fault."
"This trickery ain't my doing," the baron whined. "So you can quit your frowning at me, missy. I'm obeying my king's command, and that be that."
"Papa, please don't get yourself upset," Jamie cautioned. She reached over to pat her father's hand. Then she turned to Mary. "You seem to be the most in control. Agnes, quit your whimpering so I may hear what has happened. Mary, will you please explain?"
" 'Tis the missive from King Henry," Mary answered. She paused to brush a lock of pale brown hair over her shoulder, then folded her hands on the tabletop. "It seems our king is most upset with Papa again."
"Upset? Mary, he's bloody furious," Alice interjected.
Mary nodded before continuing. "Papa didn't send in his taxes," she announced with a frown in her father's direction. "The king is making an example of our papa."
In unison the twins turned to add their glares.
Jamie let out a weary sigh. "Please go on, Mary," she requested. "I would hear all of this."
"Well, since King Henry has married that Scottish princess...What is her name, Alice?"
"Yes, Matilda. Lord, how could I forget the name of our queen?"
" 'Tis simple enough for me to understand how you could forget," Agnes said. "Papa's never taken us to court and we've never had a single really important visitor. We're as isolated as lepers out here in the middle of nowhere."
"Agnes, you're straying from our topic," Jamie announced. Her voice was strained with impatience. "Mary, do go on."
"Well, King Henry seems to think we must all be wed to Scots," Mary stated.
Alice shook her head. "Nay, Mary. He doesn't want all of us wed to Scots. Just one of us. And the barbarian gets to pick from the lot of us. God help me, it's so humiliating."
"Humiliating? Whoever is chosen will certainly be going to her death, Alice. If the man killed one wife, he's bound to kill another. And that, sister, is a little more than just humiliating," Mary pronounced.
"What?" Jamie gasped out, clearly appalled by such talk.
Alice ignored Jamie's outburst. "I heard his first wife killed herself," she interjected.
"Papa, how could you?" Mary shouted her question. She looked as if she wanted to strike her father, for her face was flushed and her hands were clenched. "You knew the king would be angry with you for not paying your taxes. Did you not think of the repercussions then?"
"Alice, will you please lower your voice? Shouting won't change this situation," Jamie said. "We all know how forgetful Papa can be. Why, he probably just forgot to send in the tax money. Isn't that the way of it, Papa?"
"A bit of the way of it, my angel," the baron hedged.
"Oh, my God. He spent the coins," Alice said with a groan.
Jamie raised her hand for silence. "Mary, finish this explanation before I start shouting."
"You must understand, Jamie, how difficult it is for us to be reasonable in the face of this atrocity. I shall, however, endeavor to be strong, and explain it in full to you, for I can see how puzzled you are."
Mary took her time straightening her shoulders. Jamie felt like shaking her, so thin had her patience worn. She knew it wouldn't do her cause any good, though, for Mary liked to drag out her comments, no matter what the circumstances. "And?" Jamie prodded.
"As I understand this, a barbarian from the Highlands is coming here next week. He's going to choose one of the three of us Agnes, Alice, or me to be his second wife. He killed his first wife, you see. You aren't included in this, Jamie. Papa said we were the only ones named in the king's letter."
"I'm certain he didn't kill his first wife," Alice said. "Cook says the woman killed herself." Alice crossed herself.
Agnes shook her head. "No. I believe the woman was murdered. Surely she wouldn't kill herself and spend eternity in hell, no matter how terrible her husband was to her."
"Could she have died by accident, do you suppose?" Alice suggested.
"The Scots are known to be clumsy," Mary said with a shrug of her shoulders.
"And you're known to believe every bit of gossip you hear," Jamie interjected in a hard voice. "Explain what you mean by 'choosing,' Mary," she added, trying to keep her expression from showing how horrified she was.
"Choose for his bride, of course. Haven't you been listening, Jamie? We have no say in the matter, and our own contracts for marriages are all set aside until the selection has been made."
"We're to be paraded in front of the monster like horses," Agnes whimpered.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Mary rushed out. "The Scottish king, Edgar, is also in favor of this marriage, Jamie. Papa said so."
"So the lord might only be doing the bidding of his king and might not want the marriage either," Alice said.
"Oh, Lord, I hadn't thought of that," Agnes blurted out. "If he doesn't want to be wed, he'll probably kill his bride before he even reaches his home, wherever in God's name that is."
"Agnes, will you calm yourself? You're screaming again," Jamie muttered. "You're going to pull your hair out of your scalp if you keep tugging on it so. Besides, you cannot know if you speak truth or fancy about the circumstances of his first wife's death."
"His name is Kincaid, Jamie, and he is a murderer. Papa said he beat his first wife to death," Agnes advised.
"I said no such thing," the baron shouted. "I merely suggested "
"Emmett told us he threw his bride over a cliff," Mary interjected. She drummed her fingertips on the tabletop while she waited for Jamie's reaction.
"Emmett's only a groom and a lazy one at that," Jamie returned. "Why would you be listening to his stories?"
Jamie took a deep breath, hoping to calm her queasy stomach. Although she fought against it, her sisters' fear was becoming contagious. She could feel a shiver pass down her spine. She knew better than to voice her concern, though. Bedlam would erupt again.
Her trusting sisters were all staring at her with such hopeful, expectant looks on their faces. They'd just put the problem in her lap and now waited for her to come up with a solution.
Jamie didn't want to fail them. "Papa? Is there some way you can placate our king? Can you still send the taxes to him, perhaps adding a bit more to soothe his temper?"
Baron Jamison shook his head. "I'd have to collect the whole tax all over again. You know as well as I that the serfs' backs are near to broken with their own troubles. The barley crop wasn't good, either. Nay, Jamie, I cannot demand again."
Jamie nodded. She tried to hide her disappointment. She'd hoped there was still a little of the collection left, but her father's answer confirmed her fear that it was all gone.
"Emmett said Papa used up all the coins," Mary whispered.
"Emmett is just like an old woman carrying tales," Jamie countered.
"Aye," their father agreed "He's always been one to taint the truth. Pay no attention to his rantings," he added.
"Papa? Why was I excluded?" Jamie asked. "Did the king forget you had four daughters?"
"No, no," the baron rushed out. He hastily turned his gaze from his daughter to his goblet, for he feared his youngest would see the truth in his eyes. King Henry hadn't excluded Jamie. He'd used the word "daughters" in his message. Baron Jamison, knowing he'd never be able to get along without his youngest taking care of him, had made the decision himself to exclude her. He thought his plan was most cunning. "The king named only Maudie's daughters," he announced.
"Well, that certainly doesn't make any sense to me," Agnes remarked between sniffles.
"Perhaps it's because Jamie's the youngest," Mary suggested. She shrugged, then added, "Who can know what's in our king's mind? Just be thankful, Jamie, that you weren't included in his order. Why, if you were chosen you couldn't marry your Andrew."
"That's the reason," Agnes interjected. "Baron Andrew is so powerful and well liked. He told us so. He must have swayed our king's mind. Everyone knows how smitten Andrew is with you, Jamie."
"That could be the reason," Jamie whispered. "If Andrew is as powerful as he says he is."
"I don't think Jamie really wants to marry Andrew," Mary told the twins. "You needn't frown at me, Jamie. I don't think you even like him very much."
"Papa likes him," Agnes said. She gave her father another glare before adding, "I wager it's because Andrew has promised to live here so Jamie can continue to slave for "
"Now, Agnes, please don't start that again," Jamie begged.
"Why you think it's sinful of me to want to keep Jamie here after her marriage is beyond me," the baron muttered.
"Everything seems to be beyond you," Mary murmured.
"Watch what you say, young lady," he returned. "I'll not allow you to speak so disrespectful like in front of me."
"I know the true reason," Alice said, "and I'm going to tell Jamie. Andrew paid Papa your dowry, sister, and he "
"What say you?" Jamie shouted. She nearly leapt out of her chair. "Alice, you're mistaken. Knights do not give a dowry. Papa, you didn't take any coins from Andrew, did you?"
Baron Jamison didn't answer his daughter. He seemed quite taken by the task of swirling his ale in his cup.
His silence was damning.
"Oh, God," Mary whispered. "Alice, do you realize what you're suggesting? If what you're telling us is true, then our father has all but sold Jamie to Baron Andrew."
"Now, Mary, don't be getting Jamie riled up," their papa advised.
"I didn't say he sold Jamie to Andrew," Alice said.
"You did so," Mary countered.
"I saw Andrew give Papa a cloth bag full of gold coins."
Jamie's head was pounding. She was determined to get to the bottom of this coin exchange, no matter how long it took or how much her head hurt. Sold indeed! The very idea made her stomach turn. "Papa, you didn't really take coins for me, did you?" she asked. She couldn't keep the fear out of her tone.
"No, of course not, my angel."
"Papa? Do you know you call us your angels only when you've done something shameful?" Agnes wailed "God's truth, I'm beginning to hate that endearment."
"I saw Andrew give Papa the coins, I tell you," Alice shouted.
"I'm just wondering how you could have known what was inside the cloth bag," Mary argued. "Do you have the sight, do you suppose?"
"He dropped the bag," Alice snapped. "Some of the coins fell out."
"It was just a little loan," their father bellowed to get their attention. "Now hush this talk about selling my baby."
Jamie's shoulders slumped with relief. "There, you see, Alice? It was just a loan Andrew was giving Papa. You had me worrying for naught. Can we return to our original problem now?"
"Papa's back to looking guilty again," Mary advised.
"Of course Papa looks guilty," Jamie said. "You needn't rub salt in his wound. I'm sure he's sorry enough as it is."
Baron Jamison smiled at his daughter for defending him. "That's my good little angel," he praised. "Now, then, Jamie, I want you to stay hidden when the Scotsmen arrive. No sense tempting them with what they can't be having."
The baron didn't realize his blunder until Alice seized on his remark. "Scotsmen, Papa? You speak of more than one. Do you mean to tell us this demon named Kincaid is bringing others with him?"
"He's probably just bringing his family to witness the marriage," Agnes suggested to her twin.
"Is that the full of it?" Jamie asked her father. She tried to concentrate on the problem at hand, but her thoughts kept returning to the gold coins. Why would her father accept a loan from Andrew?
The baron took his time answering.
"Papa, I have the feeling there's more you'd like to tell us," Jamie coaxed.
"Good God, you mean there's more?" Mary bellowed.
"Papa, what else are you keeping from us?" Alice shouted.
"Spit it out, Papa," Agnes demanded.
Jamie motioned for silence again. The urge to grab hold of her father's gray tunic and shake him into speaking nearly overwhelmed her. She could feel her temper boiling. "May I read this missive from our king?" she asked.
"We really should have learned how to read and scribble when Jamie's mama began her instructions," Agnes remarked with a weary sigh.
"Nonsense," Agnes scoffed. "No gentle lady needs such instruction. What we really should have done was learn how to speak that God-awful Gaelic language like Jamie," she announced. "You know I mean no offense, Jamie," she hastened to add when she caught her sister's frown. " 'Tis the truth I wish I'd learned it with you. Beak did offer to teach all of us," she ended.
"It gave our stable master pleasure to teach me," Jamie said. "And Mama was amused. She was bedridden for such a long while before she died."
"Do you mean to tell me this monster from the Highlands cannot speak our language?" Agnes whimpered before bursting into tears.
Jamie might have been able to control her anger if Agnes hadn't started weeping. "What difference will it make, Agnes?" she blurted out. "The man's going to kill his bride, not talk to her."
"So you believe the rumor is true?" Mary gasped.
"No," Jamie answered, immediately contrite. "I was just jesting." She closed her eyes, said a quick prayer for patience, then turned to Agnes. "It was most unkind of me to get you upset, sister, and I do apologize."
"I would certainly hope so," Agnes cried.
"Papa, let Jamie look at this missive," Mary suddenly demanded.
"No," the baron blurted out. He immediately softened his tone, lest his angels become suspicious of his true motives. "You needn't bother, Jamie. 'Tis simple to tell. There be two Scots coming week next, and two brides going home with them."
Needless to say, the baron's daughters didn't take this added news well. The twins started howling with as much indignation as sleeping babies who'd been pinched awake.
"I'm going to run away," Mary shouted.
"It would seem to me," Jamie began in a voice meant to penetrate the noise, "that we must immediately form a plan to dissuade your suitors."
Agnes stopped bellowing in mid-scream. "Plan? What are you thinking?"
"I have thought of a deceitful plan and I'm almost afraid to mention it, but your welfare is at issue and so I'll tell you that if I were the one doing the selecting, I'd certainly stay away from any contender who was...afflicted in some way."
A slow grin transformed Mary's face. She was always the quickest to catch Jamie's thoughts, especially when they were of a devious nature. "Or so ugly as to be painful to look upon," she said with a nod. Her brown eyes sparkled with mischief. "Agnes, you and Alice may be afflicted. I'm going to be fat and ugly."
"Afflicted?" Alice asked, clearly puzzled. "Do you understand what she means, Agnes?"
Agnes started to laugh. Her nose was red from rubbing and her cheeks were raw from her tears, yet when she smiled, she looked very pretty. "A dread disease, I do believe. We must eat berries, sister. The rash will only last a few hours, so we must time this well."
"Now I see," Alice said. "We'll make the dull-witted Scots think we always have terrible lumps on our faces."
"I shall drool," Agnes announced with a haughty nod, "and scratch until they think I'm infested with vile creatures."
The four sisters laughed over that picture. Papa took heart. He smiled at his angels. "There. Do you see, now? I told you it would work out." He hadn't said any such thing, of course, but that fact didn't bother him at all. "I shall go and have my morning lie-down while you continue with your plans." Baron Jamison couldn't leave the hall fast enough.
"These Scots might not care what you look like," Jamie advised, worrying now that she might have given her sisters false hope.
"We can only pray they're shallow," Mary returned.
"Is deceiving them a sin?" Alice asked.
"Of course," Mary answered.
"We'd best not confess to Father Charles," Agnes whispered. "He'll give us another month of penance. Besides, we're deceiving Scots, if you'll remember. God will certainly understand."
Jamie left her sisters and went to talk to the stable master. Beak, as he was affectionately called by his friends because of his large hawklike nose, was an elderly man who had long ago become Jamie's confidant. She trusted him completely. He never carried her thoughts to others. He was wise in his years, too. He'd taught her all the skills he thought she'd need. In truth, she was more of a son than daughter to him.
They disagreed only when it came to the topic of Baron Jamison. The stable master had made it quite clear that he didn't hold with the way the baron treated his youngest daughter. Since Jamie was content, she couldn't understand why Beak would feel this way. As they could not agree, they carefully avoided the issue of her father's character.
Jamie waited until Beak had sent Emmett out of the stable on an errand, then told him the full story. Beak rubbed his jaw again and again during the telling, a sure indication he was giving the matter his full attention.
"This is really all my fault," Jamie confessed.
"How do you figure that?" Beak asked.
"I should have seen to the collection of taxes," Jamie explained. "Now my dear sisters will have to pay the price for my laziness."
"Laziness, my arse," Beak muttered. "The only chores you ain't responsible for are the taxes and the keeping of the watch, my girl. You're half dead from the work you do. God forgive me for ever teaching you anything. If I hadn't shown you how to ride like the best of them and how to hunt like the best of them, you'd not be acting like the best of them. You're a fair lady, Jamie, but you've taken on the chores of a knight. 'Tis I who am to blame."
Jamie wasn't at all fooled by his forlorn expression. She laughed right in his face. "Many a time you've boasted of my abilities, Beak. You're proud of me and that's that."
"I am proud of you," Beak said with a grunt. "Still, I'll not be listening to you blame yourself for your father's sins."
"You say you ain't included in this wife-bidding?" Beak asked. "Don't you think that's a mite odd?"
"I do think it's odd, but our king must have his reasons. It isn't my place to question his decisions."
"Did you happen to look at this missive, Jamie? Did you read it?"
"No, Papa didn't want me to bother with it," Jamie answered. "Beak, what are you thinking? You've got that mean look in your eyes all of a sudden."
"I'm thinking your papa's up to something," Beak admitted. "Something shameful. I've known your papa a mite longer than you have, girl. Remember who trailed after your mama when she wed the baron. I was wise to your father's ways afore you could walk. Now I'm telling you your papa's up to something."
"Papa accepted me as his own," Jamie said. "Mama always told me it didn't matter spit to him that he wasn't my blood father. Please don't forget that kindness, Beak. Papa's a good man."
"Aye, he treated you fair by calling you daughter, but that don't change the facts none."
At that moment the groom, Emmett, came strolling back into the stables. Jamie, knowing the groom's habit of listening in on others' conversations, immediately switched to Gaelic so their talk would continue to be private. "Your loyalty is suspect," she whispered, shaking her head.
"Spit! I'm loyal to you. No one else gives a holler about your future. Now, quit looking so disgruntled and tell this old man when my fellow Scotsmen will be arriving."
Jamie knew Beak was deliberately edging the conversation away from her father and was thankful. "One week's time, Beak. I must stay hidden away like a prisoner while they're here. Papa thinks it would be for the better if they don't see me, though I don't understand why. It's going to be difficult, too, what with my duties to be seen to each day. Who will do the hunting for our supper? How long do you think they'll be staying, Beak? Most likely a week, don't you suppose? I'll have to salt more pork if "
"I hope they stay a month," Beak interrupted. "You'll get a needed rest," he predicted. "Jamie, I've said it afore and I'll be saying it again. You're digging yourself into an early grave, working from sunup to sunset. I worry about you, lass. I can still remember the young days, afore your mama took ill, God rest her soul. You were no bigger than a gnat, but a hell-raiser all the same. Remember that time I had to climb up the outside of the tower to fetch you down? You screamed my name over and over, you did. And me afeared of heights so shamefully I puked up my supper as soon as I got you down? You'd tied a flimsy rope betwixt the two towers, thinking you could walk across real nimble like."
Jamie smiled over the memory. "I remember you swatted my backside. I couldn't sit down for two days."
"But you denied to your papa that I struck you, didn't you, Jamie, guessing I'd get into trouble?"
"You would have gotten into trouble," Jamie announced.
Beak laughed. "So you got yourself another good swat from your mama. She wouldn't have punished you none if she'd known I'd already seen to your discipline."
"You saved me from sure death that time," Jamie admitted.
"I've saved you more than once and that's the truth of it."
"It was a long time ago," Jamie reminded him, her smile gentle. "I'm all grown up now. I've many responsibilities. Even Andrew understands the way of it, Beak. Why can't you?"
He wasn't about to touch that hot poker. Beak knew he'd hurt her feelings if he told her what he really thought about her Andrew. Although he'd only had the misfortune of meeting Baron Fancy Figure Andrew once, it had been quite enough for him to judge the man's spineless character. Andrew's mind was as tight as his britches. All he had time to think about was himself. God's truth, every time Beak thought about his precious Jamie saddled with such a weakling, his stomach turned sour.
"You're needing a strong man, lass. Aside from me, of course, I don't rightly know if you've ever met up with any real men. And you've still got a wee streak of wildness inside you. You're wanting to be free, whether you realize it or not."
"You're exaggerating, Beak. I'm not wild, not anymore."
"Think I haven't seen you standing on your mare's back while she races through the south meadow, Jamie? I'm sorry I ever taught you that trick. You dare the devil every once in a while, don't you?"
"Beak, you've been watching me?"
"Someone has to keep an eye on you."
Jamie let out a soft sigh, then turned the topic back to the Scotsmen. Beak let her have her way. He hoped that by listening to her talk out her worries, he was in some small measure easing her burden.
When she took her leave to return to her tasks, Beak's mind was reeling with new possibilities.
Baron Jamison was weaving a deception, all right; Beak would have staked his life on it. Well, he wasn't going to let his lord get away with it.
Beak determined to become Jamie's savior. First, however, he'd have to measure these Scots. If one turned out to be a true God-fearing, woman-caring man, then Beak vowed he'd find a way to take the lord aside and tell him Baron Jamison didn't have three daughters; he had four.
Aye, Beak would try to save Jamie from her sorry fate.
God willing, he'd set her free.
The priest, Murdock, has just told us that Alec Kincaid will be coming home with an English bride. There are scowls aplenty, but they aren't because our laird has remarried. Nay, the anger is because his bride is English. Alec simply obeys the order of his king, others say in his defense. Still others wonder aloud how their laird can stomach the task.
God, I hope he falls in love with her. 'Tis too much to ask my Maker now, for Alec is as set against the English as the rest of us.
Still...it would make the kill so much sweeter.
Copyright © 1989 by Julie Garwood