Sarah cast a look of exasperation in Gannon’s direction.

“You said he didn’t take the news of the babe well,” Rionna said, bringing Sarah back to the matter at hand.

“Now I didn’t say that,” Sarah began.

“But he didn’t,” Rionna persisted.

“I don’t rightly know what his reaction was. He ordered his man to make sure you didn’t rise from bed or leave the chamber and then he stomped down the hall.”

“And you find nothing unusual about such a reaction to siring a child?” Rionna asked sarcastically.

“Give the man time. ’Twas obvious was news he was unprepared for.”

“I wasn’t any more prepared,” Rionna muttered.

Sarah shook her head and muttered under her breath. She stood, shaking her head, and threw her arms up in agitation. “The two of you are dense. Why it should surprise either of you to find you are with child is a mystery to me. It’s not as if you haven’t worked hard enough at it.”

“I wasn’t ready,” Rionna said defensively.

“And you think a babe waits until his parents are ready?” Sarah made a rude noise and continued shaking her head. “You have months yet to become ready. You’ll get used to the idea quick enough. Be happy you haven’t suffered from sickness. It would seem fatigue is your only symptom thus far.”

Rionna wrinkled her nose. “ ’Tis likely now that I know I am carrying that I’ll promptly be sick tomorrow morning.”

Sarah laughed. “You might at that, lass. The mind plays interesting tricks.”

Rionna laid a hand over her still-flat belly and felt a tremor of uncertainty roll through her. She glanced up at Sarah. “What if I’m not a fit mother?”

Sarah’s gaze softened and she sat on the bed next to Rionna. Then she glared up at Gannon and motioned him to go away. Gannon frowned but took his leave, though he made it clear he was standing guard outside the door.

Then Sarah turned back to Rionna and took her hand. “You’ll be a wonderful mother, lass. You’re fiercely loyal and protective of your people and those in need of protection. How could you be any less with your own bairn? You worry overmuch. After you’ve had time to grow used to the idea, you’ll find that all will be well.”

Rionna heaved out a sigh. “I hope you’re right. So far my husband doesn’t seem thrilled with the idea of fatherhood, and yet he seemed eager enough to plant his seed. He boasted that I’d deliver an heir within a year of our marriage. I guess he knew what he was about.”

“The laird has a lot on his mind. His responsibilities are great right now. He’ll come around. ’Tis likely a shock to him at the moment. You watch. He’ll be boasting and spreading tales of his virility before you know it.”

“He just seemed so … angry,” Rionna said softly.

Sarah shrugged. “He’ll get over the shock of it soon enough. Now about the men …”

“Aye, I should reassure them that I am well and that Caelen hasn’t murdered me. He’s had enough trouble with them of late.” Rionna sighed unhappily. “I know not what is going on with my clan, Sarah. Only a few have given Caelen their loyalty and support. I know not what they wait for or why they hold back. Surely they cannot have been more content under my father’s rule.”

Sarah patted Rionna on the hand. “Some men just don’t like change. They don’t like anything that isn’t their idea. Having a new laird forced on them—an outsider to our clan—’tis a hard thing for many of them to swallow. And ’tis pride that gets in their way, for the laird is pointing out their shortcomings and ’tis a humiliation to them.”

“Help me up and into a gown. ’Twill ease my husband’s mood if he sees me in womanly apparel. Perhaps he’ll not bellow at me too loudly for gainsaying his order to remain abed.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Sarah said wryly. “ ’Tis enough if you soothe the men’s worry that he’s dispatched you and is even now having his man bury you.”

Rionna rolled her eyes at the amusement in Sarah’s voice and threw her legs over the side of the bed. A few moments later, she was attired in a gown of amber cloth with gold-colored threads. ’Twas the first time she’d worn the gown since Sarah had sewn it for her. She’d wanted to save it for a special occasion. Avoiding her husband’s ire seemed good enough.

“You look beautiful, lass. Already, carrying the babe has given you a softer glow about you.”

Rionna paused on her way to the door and turned with a sigh. “Gannon.”

Sarah frowned as if just remembering Caelen’s commander herself. Then she shrugged. “ ’Tis unlikely he’ll lay a hand on you. Oh he’ll bluster and try to bar your way, but between the two of us we should be able to make him back down.”

Rionna didn’t have Sarah’s confidence that Gannon wouldn’t physically subdue her.

“Perhaps ’twould be better if you called Gannon inside. I’ll stand behind the door and when he comes in, I’ll hurry out behind him.”

Sarah chuckled. “You’ve a devious mind, lass. ’Twill work if I inject enough panic into my cry. Take your position, but remember to be quick. He won’t like our trickery.”

Rionna gathered her skirts in her grip and then hastened to stand behind the door. Sarah positioned herself across the room and then cried Gannon’s name.

Immediately the door burst open and Gannon ran inside the room. Not taking even a moment to see his reaction, Rionna grasped the door, darted around it, and ran down the stairs. His bellow of outrage followed her all the way down.

Urged on by the heavy tread of his footsteps on the stairs, she ran for the door leading out into the courtyard. She nearly slipped in the snow, righted herself, and ran toward her husband, whose back was to her.

But the men saw her. They lowered their swords in the midst of one of Caelen’s instructions and stared curiously as she skidded to a stop just beyond Caelen’s right elbow.

They glanced between her and Caelen, their expressions wary, and when he turned so that she could see his face, she knew why.

His expression was so coldly furious that she took a step back, her heart leaping into her throat. Gannon strode up behind her and suddenly she was pinned by two extremely angry warriors.

“You were not to allow her from her chamber,” Caelen snapped at Gannon.

“ ’Twas not his fault,” Rionna said softly. “Sarah and I tricked him.”

“You have a deft hand at trickery, wife, wouldn’t you say?”

His tone took her aback. Her mouth fell open at his accusation. She couldn’t be sure exactly what he accused her of, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

Her chin went up a notch. “I merely wanted to assure the men that I was well.”

He gestured widely, his hand sweeping over the assembled warriors. “As they can see, you are hale and hearty, no thanks to your foolishness. Now if that is all, we’ve training to finish.”

Her chest clutched at his dismissive, caustic tone. “My foolishness? What is it you speak of, husband?”

He took a step forward and stared down at her, his face so cold that she shivered. “I will speak to you later, when I am not so gripped by anger. Until then, return to our chamber and do not leave it. Are we understood?”

Her mouth fell open. She gaped incredulously at him. What on earth could she have done to anger him so?

She was sorely tempted to knee him in the cods and leave him writhing on the ground in agony. She pressed her lips into a thin line and sent him a stare that would wither a flower in full bloom.

She turned and when Gannon would have taken her arm, she jerked away and gave him an equally icy stare. Over her lifeless body would she obey her husband’s dictate to wait in their chamber for him to take her apart for some imagined slight.

She stomped inside and went in search of Sarah. Caelen should be filled with joy. He was going to be a father. It had been his wish for his seed to bear fruit with all haste so as to further seal his leadership over his new clan.

Now the McCabes and the McDonalds would be joined by blood. Caelen had everything he wanted. Why then did he look upon her as though she’d handed him the worst betrayal?

“You cannot avoid the laird forever,” Sarah warned.

Rionna shot her a glare. “ ’Tis not avoiding as much as it is me not obeying his almighty dictate. He can go to the devil. And to think I wore a dress for him.” She looked down in disgust at the beautiful amber gown that had a fair number of wrinkles in it now.

Sarah chuckled and resumed her knitting. The two women sat in Sarah’s cottage as the fire blazed in the hearth. ’Twas past the hour of the evening meal but Rionna had eaten—at Sarah’s insistence—in the quiet of Sarah’s cottage.

“You can’t miss meals now, lass,” she’d cautioned Rionna. “ ’Tis likely what made you faint. You didn’t break your fast and then you overexerted yourself.”

Rionna had given in to Sarah’s prodding and eaten a bowl of stew but she couldn’t even remember the taste. The only thing firmly entrenched in her memory was her husband’s furious expression. And his coldness to her. She had no explanation for it. One moment they were sparring, and aye, he’d been in a black mood because of the men, but surely that couldn’t be blamed for the horrible way he’d reacted to her pregnancy. Was he really so angry because she was carrying? It made no sense. Not when her bearing an heir was of such import to the alliance between the McCabes and the McDonalds. Her babe could go a long way in mending the animosity the McDonald men currently bore Caelen.

“I admit, I’ll never understand the mind of a man,” Rionna said with a sigh.

Sarah tsked under her breath. “ ’Tis good you learn that now, lass. ’Tis a foolhardy endeavor to even attempt such. The mind of a man changes on a daily basis and a woman is never sure which way it bends from one moment to the next. ’Tis why ’tis best to allow them to think they are the master of their domain and go quietly behind them and do things the way you like.”

Rionna laughed. “You are a wise woman, Sarah.”

“Having outlived two husbands already, I’ve gained more wisdom about men than a woman needs to know.” She shrugged. “ ’Tis not hard once you’ve learned they’re mostly bluster and gruff. If you can look beyond that and ignore their bite, they’re not hard to live with. You give them a little petting, stroke their pride a bit, and follow it with a kiss here and there, and they’re well content.”

“Aye, I used to think you were right,” Rionna said as she stared into the flames. “But my husband … ’tis disloyal of me to discuss him so, but he drives me daft. One moment he is as tender as a man can be and the next he’s as cold as the winter’s snow.”

Sarah smiled. “Because he’s not yet decided what he thinks of you, lass. You’ve got him so flustered that he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going. He’ll figure it out eventually.”

“How typical that I must wait on him to make his mind up before we can be at peace,” Rionna grumbled.

“ ’Tis hard to soothe a savage beast when you’re here and he’s there,” Sarah pointed out.

“ ’Tis cold and I’m not venturing out,” Rionna grumbled.

“The problem is you’re both as stubborn as an old mule. Neither of you will give an inch. ’Tis no way to make a success of a marriage.”

“If I make a practice of yielding so easily, then I’ll always be yielding and he’ll never bend.”

“Aye, that’s true as well.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?” Rionna asked in exasperation.

Sarah chuckled. “If I knew that, no one would ever be discontent, now would they? I think ’tis something you’ll have to muddle through on your own.”

“Maybe,” Rionna said grudgingly. “But ’tis nothing I’ll discover tonight. I’m tired.”

“And grumpy.”

“With good reason.”

“Go to sleep, lass. Your husband will be looking for you soon enough and you’ll not be getting to sleep then.”

“I’ll not hide from him,” Rionna vowed.

Sarah raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And what exactly do you call what you’re doing?”

“I’m defying his order.”

“And hiding while you do it,” Sarah said in amusement.

“Nay, I’ll not hide from him. ’Tis high time I discovered why it is he’s angry.”

Rionna stood, her fingers curling into fists.

“You be careful on the walk back, lass. ’Tis snowy and icy out tonight. The good Lord doesn’t seem to be able to decide if he wants it to rain or snow.”