The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1)

The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 37
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The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 37

She didn't understand. He opened the door to the bedroom, winked at his wife, and then gave her a gentle little shove to get her inside.

"What is the purpose of this meeting?"

He shut the door, bolted it, and turned his attention to Judith. "Satisfaction," he announced. "Take your clothes off and I'll explain in detail what I mean."

Her immediate blush told him she'd caught on to his game. She laughed, a full, rich sound that made his heartbeat accelerate. He leaned against the door and watched her battle her embarrassment.

He hadn't even touched her yet, but he was already feeling incredibly content. He hadn't realized, until she came into his life, what a bleak, cold existence he'd led. It was as though he'd moved around in a fog of duties and responsibilities all his life, never allowing himself time to think about what he was missing.

Judith had changed his life completely, of course. He found such joy just being with her. He took time to do inconsequential things now, such as teasing her to gain her always refreshing reaction. He liked touching her, too. Oh Lord, how he liked the feel of her soft body pressed up against him. He liked the way she blushed over the most insignificant things, the way she shyly tried to order him around.

She was a delightful confusion to him. He knew it had been difficult for her to plead for the women in the clan, yet she hadn't let her own shyness stop her from championing their cause for better treatment.

Judith was strong-willed, courageous, and extremely tenderhearted.

And he was in love with her.

Lord help him now, he thought to himself. She had captured his heart. He didn't know whether to laugh or roar. Judith paused in her task of removing her clothes to look at him. She wore only her white chemise now and was reaching for the chain holding her father's ring around her neck when she caught Iain's dark expression.

"Is something wrong?" she asked.

"I asked you not to wear that ring," he reminded her.

"You asked me not to wear it to bed at night," she countered. "And I never have, have I?"

His frown intensified. "Why do you wear it during the day? Do you have a special attachment for the thing?"


"Then why the hell do you wear it?"

She couldn't understand why he was becoming so vexed with her. "Because Janet and Bridget are now coming into our chamber to clean, and I didn't want either one of them to find the ring and wonder about it." She lifted her shoulders in a delicate shrug. "The ring's become a nuisance. I do believe I would like to get rid of it."

Now would probably be the perfect time to tell him who the ring belonged to and why she was so worried someone might recognize the distinctive design and guess it was Laird Maclean's.

She put the chain and ring back in the chest for the night and closed the lid. Then she turned around to look at him. She would tell him now. "Do you remember, right before we were married, you told me my background didn't matter to you?"

He nodded. "I remember," he replied.

"Did you mean what you said?"

"I never say anything I don't mean."

"You don't have to snap at me," she whispered. She started wringing her hands together. If Iain loved her, the truth she was about to give him wouldn't destroy that love… would it?

"Do you love me?"

He pulled away from the door. His scowl was hot enough to burn. "You won't be ordering me around, Judith."

She was taken aback by that command. "Of course not," she agreed. "But I asked—"

"I won't be turned into milk toast. You'd best understand that here and now."

"I understand," she replied. "I don't wish to change anything about you."

Her compliment didn't ease his scowl. "I'm not a weakling, and I won't be made to act like one."

The conversation had taken a bizarre turn. Iain was getting all worked up. In her heart, she was certain he loved her, yet his reaction to the simple question was so confusing to her, she started to worry.

She watched him pull off one boot and toss it on the floor. The other followed.

"Was my question that upsetting to you?" she asked, pricked at the mere possibility.

"Warriors do not become upset. Women do."

She straightened her shoulders. "I'm not upset."

"Yes, you are," he countered. "You're wringing your hands."

She immediately stopped. "You're the one doing all the scowling," she said.

He shrugged. "I was… thinking."

"About what?"

"The fires of purgatory."

She had to sit down. He wasn't making any sense now. "What does that mean?" she asked.

"Patrick told me he would walk through the fires of purgatory if he had to in order to please his wife."

She went over to the bed and sat down on the side. "And?" she prodded when he didn't continue.

He stripped out of his clothing and walked over to her. He pulled her to her feet and stared down at her.

"And I have only just realized I would do the same for you."

Chapter 13

Judith walked around in a haze of happiness for two full weeks. Iain loved her. Oh, he hadn't given her the exact words, but telling her he would walk through the fires of purgatory just to please her was certainly proof enough that he loved her.

She couldn't quit smiling. Iain couldn't quit scowling. It was obvious to her he was having difficulty accepting his feelings. She thought he was waiting for her to do or say something that would confirm his suspicions that he was now vulnerable. Loving her worried him. She understood that. Warriors were conditioned to fight and protect. They spent long years training to become invincible in both mind and body. They didn't have time for the tender side of life. Iain was probably feeling trapped now, she decided. In time he'd learn to trust his love, and to feel the same joy she was now feeling.

She would catch her husband watching her when he didn't think she was noticing. He seemed terribly preoccupied. She didn't prod him to get over this foolish vulnerability, guessing he'd get all riled up if she dared to use that word with him. She kept her patience while he sorted it all out in his mind.

Gelfrid found out she was good with a needle and thread, and immediately gave her a basketful of clothing he needed mended. Graham wasn't about to be left out. He gave her his clothing, too.

She had three tall-backed chairs with soft cushions moved into the great hall and placed in a half circle in front of the hearth. Each cushion was, of course, covered with the Maitland plaid. After supper she would take her sewing over to one of the chairs and work there while she listened to the discussions going on at the table. Often Graham would call out to her to ask her opinion, and he would usually nod his agreement after she'd given him her views. She always left the hall when an official meeting was in progress, and she knew Iain appreciated her thoughtfulness in not making him have to ask her to go.

Judith learned that by pleasing the elders, she was accidentally teaching them how to please her. She remarked one morning that it was a pity there weren't any colorful banners hanging from the walls to soften the austerity of the gray stone. Graham immediately went up to his room, and Gelfrid to his, and both returned carrying beautiful silk banners they told her used to hang in their homes.

Helen assisted in hanging the banners. She was already a welcome addition to the household. With Judith's encouragement and help, she organized the kitchens and made the keep into an appealing home for all of them. The aroma of her spices, mingled with the scent of the daily baked bread, would float through the air, drawing smiles and sighs of contentment from Graham and Gelfrid.

The first Sunday declared to be a day of rest didn't turn out the way Judith expected. Most of the women ignored the suggestion they put their work aside. Judith wasn't defeated, however. She decided that the way to get the women outside to mingle was through their children. She organized games for the little ones and sent Andrew from cottage to cottage with the announcement that the following Sunday would be a Maitland festival for all the boys and girls.

It was hugely successful. Mothers dropped everything so they could watch their children participate in the games. Judith had expected that reaction. She hadn't expected the men to get involved. Some came out of simple curiosity. Others came to watch their offspring compete. Helen took care of organizing the food. Other mothers were anxious to help. Tables were carried outside and covered with trays of fruit tarts, breads and jams, and more substantial offerings such as salted salmon, smoked lamb, and fowl.

There was only one awkward moment during the entire day. An eleven-year-old girl named Elizabeth won the competition with the bow and arrow. She bested everyone, including several thirteen-year-old boys.

No one knew what to do. If they cheered for the lass, wouldn't that be a humiliation for the older boys? Judith wasn't certain how to handle the delicate situation. Fortunately, Iain had just come outside when the competition concluded. Judith went over to him, handed him one of the pretty little banners she had made for the children and asked him to award it to the winner. She didn't mention who had won.

Her husband didn't know until he looked at the target that a girl had bested the boys. It didn't matter to him, though. He praised Elizabeth for her ability while he pinned the piece of silk to her plaid. The girl's parents rushed forward. The father told everyone within shouting distance that he had taught his daughter how to use the bow and arrow and that she'd had a clever eye from a very early age.

Judith spent most of the day meeting as many of the clan members as she could. She spotted Agnes twice, but each time she tried to go to her to offer a word a greeting, the midwife would turn her back on her and walk the other way. After three tries, Judith gave up.

Frances Catherine sat on a blanket near the center of the hill, watching the games. Judith joined her for the nooning meal. Andrew followed her up the climb, and it wasn't until she'd turned to sit down next to her friend that she noticed all the other children following along.

The little ones were extremely curious about her. Although she was now the laird's wife, she was still English, and they had a multitude of questions for her. She answered every one of them, careful not to take offense over some of the outrageous things they believed about the English.

Frances Catherine told the story of how she and Judith met. The children wanted to hear more about the border festival, of course, and Judith told them all about the games. They hung on her every word. Some hung on her. One little boy, who couldn't be more than three summers, patiently stood next to Judith. She didn't know what he wanted until she removed the extra banners from her skirts. The little one immediately strutted forward, turned around, and sat down on her lap. Judith continued on with her story, and within minutes the child was sound asleep.

The children didn't want the day to end. They wanted to hear one more story, and then another and another. Judith finally gave her promise that tomorrow afternoon she would bring her sewing outside and sit at this very spot. Anyone who would like to join her was welcome, and she would tell more stories then.

All in all, Judith felt that things were going quite well. Frances Catherine was a worry, of course, and until the baby was safely delivered and her friend fully recovered, Judith knew she was going to continue to worry. Her friend had stubbornly resisted giving her trust to Helen, but she was softening in her attitude. Her faith remained in Judith, she told her, and if she thought Helen would be a help, that would be all right… as long as Judith was in charge.

Frances Catherine was only a week away from the birthing, if her estimations were correct. Judith thought she looked big enough to have three babies. She made the mistake of telling Patrick so. He paled considerably, and she had to hurry and explain she was only teasing. He ordered her never to jest with him again.

Iain remained distant with Judith during the days. He was very different at night, however. He made passionate love to her almost every night, and always fell asleep holding her in his arms.

Her husband had never really lost his composure or his arrogance around her until the evening she met Ramsey.

Frances Catherine had just walked into the hall to spend an hour or so with Judith. Patrick helped her get settled in one of the chairs by the hearth, ordered her to stay put until he finished an important matter, and then went across the hall to join Iain and Brodick.

"My husband's turning into a nervous twit," Frances Catherine whispered.

Judith laughed. Frances Catherine faced Iain and she noticed he smiled. A few minutes later she said something else Judith found quite amusing, and she again noticed that when Judith laughed, her husband smiled.

She thought that was terribly sweet and told Judith so. Then Ramsey walked into the hall with two other warriors.

Judith didn't notice the men. Frances Catherine did. "Do you remember my telling you about the warrior named Ramsey and how handsome he is?"

Judith didn't remember. "Have a look," Frances Catherine whispered. "You'll know what I'm talking about."

Judith's curiosity was captured, of course. She peeked around the side of the chair to get a look at the man. Then she took a sharp breath. She thought her mouth might have dropped open but she couldn't be sure. Oh, Lord, he was beautiful. It was the only word that did the warrior any justice in her mind. To describe his appearance to someone who hadn't seen him would seem ordinary, she supposed, and Ramsey was anything but ordinary. He was perfection. He had dark, black-brown hair, brown eyes, and a smile destined to give ladies heart trouble. He was smiling now.

"Do you notice the dimple?" Frances Catherine whispered. "God, Judith, isn't he magnificent?"

How could she not notice the dimple? It was outrageously appealing. She wasn't about to admit that to her friend, however. She decided to tease her instead. "Which of the three is Ramsey?" she innocently asked.

Frances Catherine burst into laughter. The sound drew the men's attention. Ramsey smiled at Patrick's wife, then turned his gaze to Judith.

They stared at each other a long minute, she wondering how anyone could look that handsome, and he probably wondering who the hell she was.

Iain stood up, drawing her attention. He didn't look overly happy and he was staring at her.

She wondered what she had done to irritate him, and just as soon as she could manage to quit gawking at Ramsey, she supposed she would have to find out.

He wasn't in the mood to wait. "Judith, come here," he commanded in a near bellow.

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