The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1)

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The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 21

"What about your father? Won't he have something to say about a marriage?"

"No," she answered. "He's dead."

"But the grave was empty, remember?"

"How would you know about the grave?"

He let out a sigh. "You told me."

She remembered then. She'd torn the headstone down and hadn't had enough sense not to boast about it to the Scots. "In my heart, the man's as good as dead."

"Then I needn't be concerned about that complication?"

She didn't answer him because she didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about. She was too weary to think straight now, too.



"Tell me what this is really all about."

His voice was soft, coaching. She started crying again. "I could have killed Isabelle. If there had been any problems, I wouldn't have known what to do. She was in such terrible pain. No woman should have to go through that. And the blood, Iain," she added, her words tripping over themselves now. "There was so much blood. Dear God, I was scared."

Iain didn't know what to say to her. They had all asked an incredible amount from her. She was such an innocent, too. Hell, she wasn't even married, and yet they'd demanded she deliver a baby. He wasn't even certain if she knew how Isabelle had conceived the babe. Judith had risen to the challenge thrust upon her, however. She'd shown compassion, strength, and intelligence, too. The fact that she was so frightened made her victory all the more amazing in Iain's mind.

Her unhappiness bothered him, and he felt it was his duty to help her get through this upset.

He decided to try praise first. "You should be very proud of what you accomplished tonight."

She gave him an inelegant snort.

He tried logic next. "Of course you were frightened. I would imagine that would be a normal reaction for one of your inexperience. You'll get over it."

"No, I won't."

He tried intimidation as a last resort. "Damn it, Judith, you are going to get over this and you are going to have sons."

She pushed herself away from him again. "How like a man not to mention daughters."

Before he could respond to that remark, she poked him in the chest. "Daughters aren't important, are they?"

"I would make room for daughters, too."

"Would you love a daughter as much as a son?" she asked.

"Of course."

Because he'd answered her so quickly, without wasting any time at all to think about it, she knew he meant what he said. The bluster went out of her anger. "I'm pleased to hear this," she said. "Most fathers don't fed the same way."

"Does yours?"

She turned around and started walking back to Frances Catherine's cottage. "As far as I'm concerned, my father's dead."

He caught up with her, grabbed hold of her hand, and then took over the lead. She glanced up at him, saw his frown, and immediately asked, "Why are you angry?"

"I'm not angry."

"You're frowning."

"Damn it, Judith, I want you to admit you'll marry."

"Why?" she asked. "My future isn't any concern of yours. Besides, my mind's set, Iain Maitland."

He stopped abruptly and turned to her. He grabbed hold of her chin, leaned down and whispered, "My mind's set, too."

His mouth covered hers. She grabbed hold of him so she wouldn't fall over. Her mouth opened for him. He growled low in his throat and deepened the kiss. His tongue thrust inside to mate with hers. He wanted to devour her softness.

He didn't want to stop with one kiss, either. When he realized that fact, he immediately pulled away. Judith was too innocent to realize her own jeopardy. He wouldn't take advantage of the trust she had in him. That truth didn't stop him from thinking about it, though.

He shook his head to clear it of the erotic fantasies going through his mind, then grabbed hold of Judith's hand again and dragged her behind him.

She had to run to keep up with his long-legged stride. He didn't say another word to her until they'd reached his brother's home. Judith had her hand on the latch, but he blocked it with his arm. She decided then that he wasn't quite through confusing her.

"No matter how horrible this birthing was, in time you'll get over it." She looked up at him with the most astonished expression on her face. He nodded to let her know he meant what he'd just said. "That's an order, Judith, and you will obey it"

He nodded again while he opened the door for her. She didn't move. She continued to look up at him in confusion. "Horrible? I never said it was horrible."

It was his turn to look confused. "Then what the hell was it?"

"Oh, Iain, it was beautiful."

Her face was radiant with joy. Iain shook his head in confusion. He didn't think he was ever going to understand her.

He took his time walking home. His thoughts were centered on Judith. What was he going to do with her?

He'd reached the doors of the keep when the picture of the warrior's ring she wore popped into his mind.

Where the hell had he seen it before?

Chapter 8

There was hell to pay for her interference. The priest arrived on Frances Catherine's doorstep the following afternoon and requested an immediate audience with the Englishwoman.

Both the seriousness in Father Laggan's voice and the look on his face indicated trouble was brewing. He shifted to the side of the stoop while he waited for her agreement to fetch Judith. Frances Catherine spotted Agnes standing a little distance behind him. She understood the reason for the audience then.

Agnes looked quite smug. Frances Catherine's worry increased tenfold. She stalled for time so she could find her husband. Patrick would stand up for Judith, and from the look on Agnes's face, she knew Judith would need someone in her corner.

"My friend was up most of the night, Father, and is still sleeping. I'll be happy to wake her, but she will need a few minutes of privacy to get dressed."

Father Laggan nodded. "If you would ask her to meet me at Isabella's cottage, I'll go on along now."

"Yes, Father," Frances Catherine whispered. She made an awkward curtsy before shutting the door in his face.

She shook Judith awake. "We're in trouble," she announced. "God, Judith, roll over and open your eyes. The priest was here… with Agnes," she stammered out. "You have to get dressed now. They're waiting for you at Isabelle's home."

Judith let out a groan and finally rolled onto her back. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and sat up. "Is Isabelle ill? Is she bleeding again?"

"No, no," Frances Catherine rushed out. "I'm guessing she's fine. She… Judith, you sound horrible. What's the matter with your voice? Are you coming down with something?"

Judith shook her head. "I'm all right."

"You sound like you swallowed a frog."

"I haven't," Judith replied. "Quit worrying about me," she added with a yawn.

Frances Catherine nodded. "You have to get dressed now. Everyone's waiting for you at Isabelle's home."

"You already told me that," Judith replied. "I'm waiting to find out why. If Isabelle isn't ill, why do they want me?"

"Agnes," Frances Catherine announced. "She's bent on making trouble. Get up now. I've got to find Patrick. We need his assistance."

Judith caught her friend just as she was opening the door. "You can't go running after Patrick in your condition. You'll fall down and break your neck."

"Why are you so calm about this?"

Judith shrugged. She opened her mouth to yawn again. That action made her throat hurt. Puzzled, and still half asleep, she walked across the room and picked up Frances Catherine's looking glass. Her eyes widened in astonishment when she saw the dark bruises covering her throat. No wonder it hurt to move her neck. Her skin was swollen and looked as though it had been painted with black and blue oil.

"What are you doing?"

Judith immediately pulled her hair forward to hide the marks from Frances Catherine. She didn't want her to know Isabelle had done the damage. She would demand details then, and Judith would have to mention the pain the woman was enduring at the time. No, it was best to cover the bruises until they faded away.

She put the looking glass down and turned to smile at Frances Catherine. "After I get dressed, I'll go find Iain," she explained.

"Aren't you at all worried?"

"Perhaps just a little," Judith admitted. "But I'm an outsider, remember? What can they do to me? Besides, I haven't done anything wrong."

"That might not matter. Agnes is good at twisting things around. Since she dragged our priest into this, I think she's going to make trouble for Isabelle, too."


"Because Isabelle asked for you to attend her," Frances Catherine explained. "Agnes will want to get even over that insult." She started pacing in front of the hearth. "I'll tell you what they can do. They can go before the council and ask that you be sent back home. If they do, and the council agrees, by God, I'm going with you. I swear I am."

"Iain won't let them send me home before you have your baby," Judith answered. She felt quite certain of that fact. He'd be breaking his word to his brother if he took her back now, and Iain had too much integrity to ever do that. "You mustn't get upset, Frances Catherine. It isn't good for the baby. Now sit down while I get dressed."

"I'm going with you."

"To England or to find Iain?" Judith called out from behind the screen.

Frances Catherine smiled. Her friend's calm attitude soothed her own. She sat on the side of the bed and folded her hands together over her stomach. "We always did get into trouble when we were together," she called out. "I should be accustomed to it by now."

"No," Judith returned. "We didn't get into trouble. You got me into trouble. I'm the one who got my bottom pounded all the time. Remember?"

Frances Catherine laughed. "You've got it all upside down in your mind. I'm the one who got pounded, not you."

Judith put on her pale gold gown because the neckline was higher than the other gowns she'd packed. The bruises on her neck were still visible, though.

"Do you have a shawl or a lightweight cloak I could borrow?"

Frances Catherine gave Judith a pretty black shawl and she used that to hide the marks. When she was finally ready to leave, her friend walked outside with her.

"Try not to worry about this," Judith instructed. "I shouldn't be gone too long. I'll tell you everything that happened, too."

"I'm going with you."

"No, you're not."

"What if you can't find Patrick or Iain?"

"Then I'll go to Isabellas by myself. I don't need a man to speak up for me."

"You do here," Frances Catherine replied.

The argument was interrupted when Frances Catherine spotted Brodick coming up the hill. She waved to the warrior, and when he didn't notice her, she put two fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-piercing whistle. Brodick immediately turned his mount toward them.

"Patrick hates it when I whistle," Frances Catherine confessed. "He doesn't think it's ladylike."

"It isn't," Judith said. "It's effective, though," she added with a smile.

"Do you still remember how? My brothers would be disappointed if they thought you'd forgotten their important training."

Judith laughed. "I still remember how," she said.

"Brodick's a handsome man, isn't he?" she remarked then. The surprise in her voice indicated she had only just realized that fact.

"You were in the man's company for almost ten days and you're only just noticing he's handsome?"

"Iain was also with me," Judith reminded her. "And he tends to overwhelm everyone else around him."

"Aye, he does."

"What a magnificent horse," Judith announced, hoping to turn the topic away from Iain. She wasn't ready for Frances Catherine to question her about her relationship with the laird, for in truth she didn't understand her own feelings well enough to answer any questions.

"The horse belongs to Iain, but he lets Brodick drive him every now and again. The stallion has a horrible disposition, and that's probably why they like him. Don't get too close, Judith," she shouted when her friend hurried forward to greet Brodick. "The surly mount will stomp on you if he gets a chance."

"Brodick won't let him," Judith called back. She reached the warrior's side and smiled up at him. "Do you know where Iain is?"

"He's up at the keep."

"Will you please take me to him?"


She pretended she didn't hear his denial. She put her hand up to his and kept right on smiling for Frances Catherine's benefit while she whispered, "I'm in trouble, Brodick, I need to speak to him."

She hadn't even gotten the words out of her mouth before she was settled on his lap. He goaded the stallion into a full gallop. Minutes later he was assisting her to the ground in the center of the barren courtyard in front of the huge keep.

"Iain's with the council," Brodick told her. "Wait here, I'll go get him."

He tossed her the reins to his mount and then went inside.

The stallion really was surly-natured. It was a struggle to keep him from bolting away. She wasn't intimidated by his snorts of bluster, though, for she had been taught how to handle a horse from a very early age by a man she considered to be the finest stable master in all of England.

Judith waited a long while before her patience ran out. In the back of her mind was the worry that the priest would have his mind set against her because she hadn't hurried to do his bidding.

She didn't want Isabelle to fret, either. Isabella might think she was going to leave her to face the inquisition alone.

She decided she couldn't waste any more time. She soothed the horse with honeyed words of praise as she mounted him, then nudged him into a trot back down the hill. She made one wrong turn, had to backtrack, and reached Isabelle's cottage a few minutes later. There was a crowd gathered outside the door. Winslow stood on the doorstep. He looked furious… until he spotted her. Then he looked quite stunned.

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