The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1)

The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 15
  • Prev Chapter
  • Background
    Font family
    Font size
    Line hieght
    Full frame
    No line breaks
  • Next Chapter

The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 15

He didn't stop, but he did look back over his shoulder. He gave her an abrupt nod and continued on. She said thank-you to Alex, Gowrie, and Brodick as they filed past her. They reacted in the very same manner. They were abrupt, distant.

Judith told herself she shouldn't have expected anything more. They'd done their duty and were finally rid of her. She held on to her smile and turned around. As she was passing a group of women, she heard one whisper, "Dear God, I'm thinking she's English, but that can't be, can it?" If Judith's clothing hadn't given her away, she knew her accent certainly had.

She continued to walk toward Frances Catherine, but smiled at the women gawking at her. "Aye, I am English."

One woman's mouth actually dropped open. Judith suppressed the urge to laugh, because she felt it would be terribly rude to show amusement over someone else's obvious distress.

When she reached her friend, she said, "Everyone seems quite thrilled to have my company."

Frances Catherine laughed. Patrick reacted in just the opposite way. He evidently thought she'd been serious when she made that remark. "Judith, I don't believe thrilled is the proper word. Actually, I would wager they're…"

He looked at his wife for help in softening the truth. Frances Catherine didn't give him any assistance, however. She couldn't quit laughing.

Judith smiled up at Patrick. "Would 'appalled' be a better word?"

"Nay," Frances Catherine said. "Outraged, disgusted, or perhaps—"

"Enough," Patrick interrupted with a low growl. The sparkle in his eyes indicated he wasn't really angry.

"Then you were jesting with me when you suggested—"

Judith nodded. "Yes, I was jesting. I know I'm not welcome here. Iain warned me."

Before Patrick could comment on that remark, an elderly warrior called out to him. He bowed to Frances Catherine and Judith, then walked over to the cluster of men standing near the steps to the keep. Frances Catherine linked her arm through Judith's and started walking down the slope.

"You'll be staying with Patrick and me," she explained. "It might be a little cramped but I want you close by."

"Is there more than one room in this cottage?"

"No. Patrick wants to add another after the baby's born."

Patrick came down the hill to join them. The frown on his face made Judith believe he'd already had to defend her presence to the warriors.

"Is it going to be difficult for you, Patrick, because you invited me to come here?"

He didn't give her a direct answer. "They'll become accustomed to having you around."

They reached the cottage. It was the first along the pathway. Flowers bordered the front of their home, some pink, others red, and the stone had been thoroughly whitewashed until it was pristine clean.

There was a wide square window on each side of the door. The interior was just as inviting as the exterior. A stone hearth took up the center of one wall. A large bed covered with a beautiful multicolored quilt was positioned against the opposite wall, and a round table surrounded by six stools took up the rest of the space. The washstand was near the door.

"We'll bring a cot inside before nightfall," Frances Catherine promised.

Patrick nodded agreement, but he didn't look very happy about the arrangement. Nay, he looked resigned.

It was a delicate topic, but one that needed to be settled as soon as possible. Judith went over to the table and sat down. "Patrick, please don't leave yet," she called out when he started back out the doorway. "I would like to talk to you about this sleeping arrangement."

He turned, leaned against the door, folded his arms across his chest and waited for her to explain. He thought she was going to suggest that he find someplace else to stay while she was there, and he was already preparing himself for his wife's disappointment when he told Judith no. Although it wasn't possible to be physically intimate with Frances Catherine now, he still enjoyed holding her close during the night, and by God, he wasn't going to give that up.

Unless Frances Catherine got all teary-eyed on him again, Patrick admitted. He'd give up anything just to ease her distress.

Judith was taken aback by the intense frown Patrick was giving her. Frances Catherine's husband was turning out to be as gruff-natured as Iain was. She still liked him, of course, and all because she could tell from the way he watched his wife that he loved her.

She folded her hands together. "I don't feel it's appropriate for me to stay with you. You both should have your privacy each night," she added in a rush when Frances Catherine looked like she was going to argue. "Please don't take offense," she said. "But I think a husband and wife should have time alone. Isn't there someplace I could stay that's close by?"

Frances Catherine was vehemently shaking her head when Patrick spoke up. "The cottage two down is empty. It's smaller than ours, but I'm certain it would do."

"Patrick, I want her to stay with us."

"She just explained she doesn't want to, love. Let her have her way."

Judith was embarrassed. "It isn't that I don't want to stay—"

"There, do you see? She does want to—"

"Frances Catherine, I'm going to win this argument," Judith announced. She nodded to her friend when she made that prediction.


"Because it's my turn," she explained. "You may win the next argument."

"Lord, you're stubborn. All right. You may stay in Elmont's cottage. I'll help you make it comfortable."

"You will not," Patrick interjected. "You're going to rest, wife. I'll see to your friend's comfort."

Patrick was looking much happier now. Judith guessed he was relieved she was going to be sleeping somewhere else. He even smiled at her. She smiled back. "I do assume Elmont isn't living there anymore and won't mind."

"He's dead," Patrick told her. "He isn't going to mind at all."

Frances Catherine shook her head at her husband. He winked at her, then left the cottage. "My husband didn't mean to sound so callous, but Elmont was very old when he died, and his passing was peaceful. Patrick was just making a little jest. I think he's taken with you, Judith."

"You love him very much, don't you, Frances Catherine?"

"Oh, yes," her friend answered. She sat down at the table and spent a good hour talking about her husband. She told Judith how they'd met, how he relentlessly pursued her, and finished by mentioning just a hundred or two of his special qualities.

The only thing the man wasn't capable of was walking on water… yet. Judith made that comment when her friend paused for breath.

Frances Catherine laughed. "I'm so happy you're here."

"You don't have hurt feelings because I want to sleep somewhere else?"

"No, of course not. Besides, you'll be close enough to hear me shout if there's need. I must be careful not to exclude Patrick. My husband does get his feelings hurt quite easily if he thinks I'm not paying him enough attention."

Judith tried not to laugh. Patrick was such a big brute of a man. The idea that he could have injured feelings was vastly amusing, and terribly sweet.

"He looks like his brother."

"Perhaps just a little," Frances Catherine agreed. "Patrick's much more handsome, though."

Judith was of the opinion that it was really just the opposite. Iain was much better-looking than Patrick was. Love really must color one's perception, she decided.

"Patrick's incredibly gentle and loving."

"So is Iain," Judith remarked before she could stop herself.

Her friend immediately latched on to that comment. "And how would you know if Iain's loving or not?"

"He kissed me." She'd whispered that confession, felt herself blush, and immediately lowered her gaze. "Twice."

Frances Catherine was stunned. "Did you kiss him back… twice?"


"I see."

Judith shook her head. "No, you don't see," she argued. "We were attracted to each other. I'm not at all certain why, but it doesn't really matter. The attraction's over now. Really," she added when she saw her friend's reaction.

Frances Catherine didn't believe her. She was shaking her head. "I know why he was attracted to you," she said.


Frances Catherine rolled her eyes heavenward. "Honest to God, you don't have a bit of vanity inside you. Don't you ever see yourself in the looking glass? You're beautiful, Judith." She paused to let out a dramatic sigh. "No one's ever taken the time to tell you that."

"That's not true," Judith argued. "Millicent and Herbert gave me plenty of compliments. They let me know how much they loved me."

"Yes," Frances Catherine agreed. "But the one you most needed acceptance from turned her back on you."

"Don't start in, Frances Catherine," Judith warned. "Mother can't help the way she is."

Frances Catherine snorted. "Is Tekel still roaring drunk every night?"

Judith nodded. "He's drinking during the day now, too," she said.

"What do you suppose would have happened to you if you hadn't had your aunt Millicent and uncle Herbert protecting you when you were so young and vulnerable? I think about such things now that I'm expecting my own child."

Judith didn't know what to say to those remarks. Her silence told her friend to ease up.

"Did you have difficulty leaving?" Frances Catherine asked. "I worried because I knew you would probably be at Tekel's holding. You always have to stay with him for six months at a time, and I couldn't remember exactly when you would move back. I've been fretting over it."

"I was with Tekel but I didn't have any trouble leaving," Judith replied. "Mother had already left for London and the king's court."

"And Tekel?"

"He was sotted when I told him where I was going. I'm not certain he even remembered the next morning. Millicent and Herbert will tell him again if there's need."

She didn't want to talk about her family any longer. There was such sadness in Frances Catherine's eyes, and Judith was determined to find out the reason.

"Are you feeling well? When is the baby due to arrive?"

"I feel fat," Frances Catherine answered. "And I'm guessing I have about eight or nine more weeks before it's time."

Judith took hold of her friend's hand. "Tell me what's wrong."

She didn't have to explain that gentle order. Her friend understood what she was asking. "If it weren't for Patrick, I would hate it here."

The vehemence in Frances Catherine's voice told Judith she wasn't exaggerating her misery. "Do you miss your father and your brothers?"

"Oh, yes," she answered. "All the time."

"Then ask Patrick to go and fetch them for a nice long visitation."

Frances Catherine shook her head. "I can't ask for anything more," she whispered. "We had to go to the council to get permission for you to come here."

With Judith's prodding, she explained all about the council's power. She told Judith how Iain had interfered when the oligarchy was getting ready to deny her request, and how frightened she'd been during the entire ordeal.

"I don't understand why you would have to go through the council to get permission," Judith remarked. "Even though I'm English, I still don't see the need to have their approval."

"Most of the Maitlands have good reason to dislike the English," Frances Catherine explained. "They've lost family and friends in battles against the English. They hate your King John, too."

Judith lifted her shoulders in a shrug. " 'Tis the truth most of the barons in England dislike the king." She resisted the urge to make the sign of the cross so she wouldn't burn in purgatory for defaming her overlord. "He's self-serving and has made some terrible mistakes, at least that's what Uncle Herbert tells me."

"Did you know your king was pledged to marry a Scot and then changed his mind?"

"I hadn't heard, but I'm not surprised. Frances Catherine, what did you mean when you said you couldn't ask Patrick for anything more? Why can't he fetch your father?"

"The Maitlands don't like outsiders," she answered. "They don't like me either."

She sounded like a child when she blurted out that remark. Judith thought that perhaps her delicate condition was the reason for her emotional turmoil. "I'm just as certain everyone likes you."

"I'm not making this up in my mind," she argued. "The women think I'm spoiled and accustomed to having my own way."

"How do you know that?"

"One of the midwives told me so." Tears started down Frances Catherine's cheeks. She wiped them away with the backs of her hands. "I'm so scared inside. I've been scared for you, too. I knew it was selfish of me to ask you to come here."

"I gave you my word years ago that I would come," Judith reminded her. "I would have been hurt if you hadn't sent for me. Don't talk such nonsense."

"But the promise I made you give me… that was before I knew I'd end up here," she stammered out. "These people are so… cold. I worried they might offend you."

Judith smiled. How like her friend to be so concerned about her well-being. "Frances Catherine, have you always felt like this or did you begin to hate it here after you found out you were expecting?"

Her friend had to consider the question a long minute. "I was happy at first, but it soon became clear to me I didn't fit in. I feel like an outsider. I've been married for over three years now and they still don't consider me a Maitland."

"Why not?"

"Perhaps because I was raised on the border," she answered. "At least that might be part of their reasoning. Patrick was supposed to marry someone else. He hadn't offered for her, but it was assumed he would. Then he met me."

"Have you discussed your unhappiness with Patrick?"

"I did mention it a few times," she said. "My unhappiness was very upsetting. My husband can't make the women like me. I don't want to die here. I wish Patrick would take me back to Papa before the birthing and stay with me until it's over."

Use arrow keys (or A / D) to PREV/NEXT chapter