The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1)

The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 39
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The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) Page 39

God help her, she was actually related to this barbarian. She didn't speak to him again for a good hour or more. Curiosity got the better of her intention to ignore him, however, and since they now rode well ahead of both Graham and Patrick, and wouldn't be overheard, she decided to find out what she could about her father.

"What is Laird Maclean like?"


She heard the amusement in his voice. "And?"

"And what?"

"Never mind."

"Why are you so interested?"

"It's good to know as much as possible about one's enemies," she explained. "Why will your father be pleased to see Graham?"

"He has something to settle with him," Douglas answered. "The hate goes back long years. Aye, my father will be happy to see Graham again."

They didn't speak again until they had reached Maclean land. Judith was given a few minutes privacy. She returned from the shelter of the trees, ignored Douglas's outstretched hand, and gained her own horse before he could stop her.

Patrick kept trying to get close enough to talk to her. The Dunbars weren't letting him. Those warriors took their leave when additional Maclean soldiers surrounded them, obviously intent on returning to their own holding.

Judith knew Patrick wanted her to keep silent. He didn't want the Macleans to know they'd captured the laird's wife to use as bait to draw Iain out. Douglas had only been fishing for the truth when he'd suggested she was Iain's woman. He couldn't be sure until someone who knew the truth verified it.

None of it mattered. Iain would come anyway. Surely Patrick realized that. The two brothers had always looked after each other, and Iain would come to Patrick's aid now, Judith told herself, even if she weren't involved.

There could be a bloodbath. Judith didn't have any doubt about that. Iain wouldn't be reasonable when he retaliated, and just thinking about what would happen made her stomach ache.

She didn't want anyone to die. She didn't know what she could do to prevent the war, but she was determined to try.

She could try to get her father alone and tell him who she was. Then she would have to beg his mercy. If he proved to be compassionate, he might let Graham and Patrick leave before Iain came after them.

Judith had never begged for anything, and in her heart she doubted it would work anyway. She didn't think her father would welcome her. He hadn't bothered to come after her or her mother… why would he change his attitudes now?

And if she told him who she was, she would certainly lose everything. Iain would never forgive her. She couldn't blame him. She should have told him the truth, should have insisted he listen to her.

She thought about all those warm, dark nights when they had held each other close and whispered their thoughts to each other… oh, yes, she could have told him then.

She'd been too afraid, of course, and all because deep inside she knew he wouldn't love her anymore.

Judith's mind was so consumed by her fears, she didn't notice they'd ridden into the courtyard of the Maclean keep. She looked up, caught sight of the massive stone structure and immediately straightened her shoulders

…and her resolve.

She gave the Maclean holding a name. Purgatory.

Douglas tried to help her in mid-mount. She kicked his hand away. He tried to grab hold of her arm after she'd reached the ground. She shoved him away, then turned and walked up the steps.

Her bearing was every bit as regal as a queen's. Graham followed her. He was so proud of her behavior, he smiled. So did Patrick. The Maclean warriors were left guessing as to why the Maitlands were in such cheerful moods. They shook their heads and hurried inside to see their laird's reaction to his son's "gifts."

Laird Maclean made everyone wait on him for over three long hours. Judith was kept at one end of the gigantic hall, and the other captives were kept at the opposite end. Patrick and Graham had their hands tied together behind their backs.

Judith couldn't sit still. She paced back and forth in front of the long table. The longer they were kept waiting, the more anxious she became. She was worried about Frances Catherine most of all. Would her friend begin her laboring when she was given the news that Patrick had been taken captive? Dear God, she wouldn't be there to help her.

Her heart went out to Patrick. He was certainly thinking the same worrisome thoughts right now.

Her pace must have been driving the Maclean warriors daft. One reached out to grab her. She was too surprised by the bold action to fight him until he pulled her into his arms.

Patrick let out a roar of fury and came charging across the hall. Douglas came running from the entrance. Judith gathered her wits before either man could get to her. She rammed her knee into the eager soldier's groin. He let out a howl of outrage—and pain, she was pleased to note—before doubling over and crashing to the floor.

She was thoroughly satisfied. Douglas caught her attention then. He grabbed her to pull her away from the soldier writhing on the floor. Patrick wasn't hindered by the fact that his hands were bound behind his back. He used his shoulder to knock Douglas away from Judith.

Douglas went flying into the stone wall. Judith went with him. She would have hit the back of her head against the stone, but Douglas's hand got there first, protecting her.

Patrick tried to slam into Douglas again. Judith was still in his way, however. Douglas shoved her out of his way and then lunged for her brother-in-law.

"Don't you dare strike him," Judith cried out. "His hands are bound, damn it. If you want to hit someone, hit me."

"Stay out of this, Judith," Patrick roared.


The bellow came from the entrance. Everyone turned to see who had issued the command.

Laird Maclean stood in the center of the entrance. Judith stiffened at the sight of the big man.

The laird's hands were settled on his h*ps and he had a mean scowl on his face. "Get that soldier out of here," he ordered.

Douglas nodded. He helped the soldier Judith had felled to the floor back to his feet and gave him a push toward the entrance.

The laird nodded with satisfaction, then walked into the hall. He passed Judith without giving her a glance and continued on until he reached the other side of the table. He took his seat in a high-backed chair in the center.

A woman came hurrying inside. She appeared to be about ten years older than Judith. She was dark-haired, heavyset, and wore a smug expression on her face. She paused to stare at Judith before hurrying on toward the table. Judith decided to hate her.

Her attention returned to her father. She didn't want him to be handsome. He was, though. He looked a little like Douglas… and like her, she supposed with a sinking heart. His skin was far more leathered-looking than his son's, of course, and he had deep creases around the corners of his eyes and mouth. His brown hair was streaked through with gray, giving him a distinguished appearance.

It was apparent he didn't know who she was, but when his gaze settled on Graham, he smiled a mean-hearted, ugly smile.

Douglas walked forward. She tried to trip him when he passed her. He grabbed hold of her arm and jerked her into his side.

"I've a wedding present for you, Father," Douglas called out. "I can't be certain, but I've got a strong feeling this shrew belongs to Iain Maitland."

She kicked him because he'd called her an insulting name. Then the fullness of what he had just said penetrated her mind.

A wedding present for her father… no, it couldn't be. She couldn't have understood. "Your father isn't getting married, is he?"

She sounded as though she was strangling on something. Douglas turned to look at her. "Aye, he is getting married, and Lord, you really do ask the strangest questions for a captive."

Her knees went weak. Douglas had to hold her up. God's truth, she didn't think she could take any more surprises. First she found out she had a brother, and now she was learning her father was about to become a bigamist.

"He thinks he's going to marry that woman?" she asked with a wave of her hand toward the table.

Douglas nodded. The laird's companion took offense. "Get her out of here," she called out. "She offends me."

Judith took a step toward the woman. Douglas squeezed her arm. She thought he might have broken the bone. She let out an involuntary cry of pain and pulled away from him. The sleeve of her gown ripped wide.

Douglas had an appalled look on his face. In a low whisper only she could hear, he said, "I didn't mean to hurt you. Please stand still. It won't do you any good to fight."

Laird Maclean let out a loud sigh. "You will leave," he ordered his companion. "I don't need your interference."

She took her time obeying. She glared at Judith again when she walked past her. Judith ignored her.

"The Maitland laird's coming up the path," a soldier shouted from the doorway.

Judith's heart felt as though it had just stopped beating. Iain was here.

"How many ride with him?" Laird Maclean shouted.

"He's all alone," the soldier reported. "Riding up the hill as sweet as you please."

The Maclean laird laughed. "The boy's got courage, I'll give him that," he remarked. "He isn't carrying any weapons, either, I'll wager."

"Nay, he isn't," the soldier replied.

Judith desperately wanted to run outside to her husband. She tried to do just that, but Douglas caught her. He tightened his hold on her already bruised arm and pulled her close.

"You will not mistreat a woman, Douglas, no matter how much she provokes you. I'm wanting Iain, not his woman."

"For the love of God, I beg you to listen to reason, Laird Maclean. Stop this now before there's a bloodbath."

Father Laggan shouted his plea from the entrance. Judith turned just as the priest came running into the hall.

He came to a quick stop when he reached Judith's side. "Are you all right, lass?"

She nodded. "Father, did you come to listen to Laird Maclean give his marriage vows?"

"Aye, Judith," the priest wearily answered. "And to hopefully talk some sense into these men before it's too late."

Judith shook her head. In a whisper, she said, "I can promise you there won't be any wedding."

"Unhand her, Douglas," the priest ordered. "Look what you've done to her arm. The skin's already turning purple with the swelling. You're hurting her."

Douglas quickly obeyed the priest's command. Judith took full advantage of her freedom. She ran toward the doorway. Douglas caught her around the waist and dragged her back just as Iain walked inside.

He didn't even pause to take in the situation, or the numbers against him. He just kept right on coming. Judith took one look at his expression and closed her eyes. Iain was about to kill someone. She thought Douglas might very well be his target.

"Let go of me," she whispered. "He'll kill you if you don't."

Her brother was intelligent enough to do as she suggested. She immediately ran to Iain and threw herself into his arms. She buried her face against his chest.

"Are you all right?" he asked. "They didn't hurt you?"

She could feel him shaking. She looked up at him. The expression on his face told her it wasn't fear causing that reaction. Nay, it was rage.

"No one hurt me," she told him. "I've been treated well, truly."

He nodded. He gave her a quick squeeze, then gently forced her behind his back.

He walked forward to confront his enemy. Judith followed him. Graham and Patrick were given freedom to move forward. They positioned themselves on either side of Judith.

The two lairds stared at each other a long while, each taking the other's measure. Maclean was the first to break the silence. "It seems you've got yourself a problem, Iain Maitland. I've captured your woman and I'm not at all certain what I'm wanting to do with her. You dared to try to form an alliance with the Dunbars while sending an emissary to me for the same purpose. Were you believing you could play one against the other?"

"You're a fool, old man," Iain replied in a voice shaking with anger. "It was the Dunbars playing that game."

Maclean slammed his fist down on the table. "I've formed an alliance with the Dunbars. Do you call me fool now?"

Iain didn't hesitate. "I do."

Laird Maclean took a deep breath in a bid to control his rising fury. He cocked his head to one side while he stared at Iain. Then he shook his head. "You're deliberately provoking me," he remarked. "I'm wondering why. Everyone knows the store I put in family dealings. Aye, my alliance with the Dunbars made sound sense. You must know the Dunbar laird's second cousin, Eunice, is married to my brother. Aye, it was a union of family, Iain Maitland, and family comes before all other considerations. Yet you call me fool because I'm loyal? You're far too clever to deliberately goad me into killing you. You've got too much to lose. What is your game?"

Iain didn't answer soon enough to please the laird. "Is this woman your wife?"

"Her relationship to me is none of your affair."

Maclean grinned. "I might keep her and give her to one of my men," he boasted, in an attempt to get the Maitland laird riled enough to lose his composure. "Douglas? Are you wanting her in your bed?"

"I am," Douglas called out.

The outrage had gone far enough. The two lairds were like bulls, ramming heads together. Judith moved to her husband's side. "You won't keep me," she called out.

Her father's eyes narrowed. "Your boldness displeases me," he roared.

"Thank you," she replied.

Iain almost smiled then and there. He could feel Judith trembling. Maclean didn't have any idea how frightened she really was, however, and that fact pleased Iain considerably.

"You've got the voice of an Englishwoman," Maclean remarked. "And you appear to be as ignorant as your husband. Don't either of you realize your jeopardy?" He centered his gaze on Judith. "Or does the possibility of your husband's death appeal to you?"

Neither Judith nor Iain answered the laird. Maclean's patience ended. He started shouting at Iain. Iain didn't show any outward reaction to the threats his enemy was making. His expression was so controlled, it was as though it had been carved out of stone. In truth, he looked downright bored.

The laird was red-faced and out of breath by the time he'd finished spewing his litany of reprisals. "Aye, you've got a problem," he muttered. "For no one calls me a fool. No one." He leaned back in his chair, his mind made up. "I am going to kill you, Iain, for that insult alone."

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