Her eyes widened in surprise. “I was exhausted,” she blurted out in defense of having slept half the day away. “I’m usually awake at dawn, m’lord, but the journey here was very tiring. What is that pounding noise I’m hearing?” She added the question in an attempt to turn the topic away from her laziness.
“The men are working on the new roof above the great hall.”
He noticed the dark circles under her eyes. Her skin was pale. He was sorry he’d awakened her. Then the hammering started again, and he realized that noise would have shaken her awake anyway. Gabriel decided he shouldn’t have allowed the work on the roof to begin today. His bride needed rest, not distraction.
“Was there something you wanted, m’lord?”
“I wanted to give you your instructions.”
She smiled again, an indication, she hoped, of her willingness to take on whatever duties he wanted to give her.
“Today you will wear the MacBain plaid. Tomorrow you will switch to the Maclaurin colors.”
“You’re mistress here over both clans and must try not to slight either faction. It would be an insult if you wore my colors two days in a row. Do you understand?”
He believed he’d been very specific. “Nay,” she replied. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you laird over both clans?”
“So you are, therefore, considered everyone’s leader?”
“That is so.”
He sounded terribly arrogant. He looked arrogant, too. His presence was . . . commanding. He fairly towered over the bed. And yet he’d been so incredibly gentle last night. The memory of their lovemaking made her sigh.
“Now do you understand me?” he asked, perplexed by the wide-eyed stare she was giving him.
She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “No, I still don’t understand,” she confessed. “If you’re . . .”
“It isn’t your place to understand,” he announced.
She hid her exasperation. He seemed to want her agreement. He wasn’t going to get it. She simply continued to stare at him and wait for his next outrageous remark.
“There is one more instruction I would give you,” Gabriel said. “I don’t want you to concern yourself with work of any kind. I want you to rest.”
She was certain she hadn’t heard him correctly. “Rest?”
“In heaven’s name why?”
He frowned over her incredulous expression. It was apparent to him why she should rest. Still, if she needed to hear his reason, he would give it.
“It’s going to take you time to recover.”
“Recover from what?”
“From your journey here.”
“But I’ve already recovered, m’lord. I slept the morning away. I’m fully rested now.”
He turned to leave. “Gabriel?” she called out to stop him.
“I asked you not to call me by that name.”
“Last night you demanded I say your name,” she reminded him.
She immediately started blushing. “When we were . . . kissing.”
He remembered. “That was different,” he told her.
“What was? Kissing me or demanding I say your name?”
He didn’t answer her.
“Gabriel is a fine name.”
“I am through discussing this,” he announced.
She didn’t know what to make of his behavior. She decided to put the matter of his name aside for the moment. He was reaching for the door latch and she wanted to ask him something before he left. “May I go hunting this afternoon?”
“I’ve just explained I want you to rest. Don’t make me repeat myself.”
“But you aren’t making any sense at all, m’lord.”
He turned around and walked back to the side of the bed. He looked irritated, but only mildly so.
He didn’t intimidate her. The realization popped into her mind all at once. She smiled in reaction. She didn’t understand why she felt that way, but she did. She was actually speaking her mind. too, and that was a pleasant first in a long, long while. It felt . . . liberating.
“I’ve already explained I’ve recovered from my journey here,” she reminded him.
He clasped her jaw in his hand and tilted her head back so she would have to look into his eyes. He almost smiled when he saw how disgruntled she looked.
“There is another reason I want you to rest.” he announced.
She gently nudged his hand away. She was getting a crick in her neck looking up at him. “And what might your reason be, m’lord?”
She shook her head. “You mentioned that opinion last night, husband. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.”
“You are weak, Johanna,” he repeated, ignoring her protest. “It’s going to take you time to build up your strength. I’m aware of your limitations, even if you aren’t.”
He didn’t give her time to argue over his decision. He leaned down, kissed her, and then left the chamber.
As soon as the door closed behind him, she threw off the covers and got out of bed.
How could her husband form such unbending opinions about her character so quickly? He couldn’t possibly know her limitations. He hadn’t known her long enough. It was unreasonable for him to draw any conclusions about her.
Johanna continued to think about her husband while she washed and dressed. Father MacKechnie had explained what she would be expected to wear underneath the plaid. She put on the Highland dress, a white long-sleeved underblouse and skirt, then donned the MacBain plaid. She fashioned perfect pleats around her waist, tossed one end of the long strip of material over her right shoulder so the plaid would cover her heart, and secured the garment with a narrow brown leather belt.
She thought about unpacking her bow and arrows and ignoring her husband’s command altogether, then changed her mind. Open defiance probably wouldn’t sit well with Gabriel. She had already learned he was a proud man, and she didn’t believe she could achieve anything by challenging his decision.
Still, there was always more than one way into a castle. Her mother used to whisper that reminder to Johanna when she argued with her father. Johanna’s mother was a wise woman. She was loyal to her husband, of course, but over the years she had learned how to get around his stubborn moods. Johanna had learned from her mother’s example. The dear woman was full of clever sayings she’d passed down to her daughter. She never tried to manipulate her husband, she explained, for manipulating would be dishonorable, and the end, after all, didn’t always justify the means. She was very clever, though, and usually found a way to placate everyone in her household.
Unbeknownst to her mother, Johanna’s father frequently took her aside when she was bickering with her mother as well. He too had advice to give regarding the delicate methods he employed to get along with his wife when she was in one of her stubborn moods. Johanna’s mother’s suggestions made far more sense than her father’s recommendations. She learned something more important from her father, however. He loved his wife and would do anything in his power to make her happy. He just didn’t want his wife to know it. The two of them played a game of sorts where both were the victors. Johanna thought their marriage a bit strange, but they had been very happy together, and she thought that was all that mattered.
Johanna only wanted to live a quiet, peaceful life. In order to achieve her goal, she would simply make certain she stayed out of her husband’s way. She wouldn’t interfere in his affairs, and she would definitely try to get along with him. In return, she expected him to try to get along with her and stay out of her way. After her years with Raulf, Johanna believed with all her heart that being left alone would make her happy.
She turned her attention to straightening up the chamber. She made the bed, swept the floor, unpacked her clothes and put them away in the chest, and then tucked her three satchels under the bed. She was in a hurry to get outside, for it had turned out to be a glorious day. When she tied the fur covering back from the window, sunlight flooded the chamber. The scent of the Highlands filled the air. The view was breathtaking. The meadow below was as green as emeralds. The hills beyond were thick with giant pine and oak trees. Splashes of color dotted the landscape; red, pink, and purple wildflowers clustered together along a winding path that seemed to lead all the way to heaven.
After eating a small meal, Johanna decided to take little Alex with her on a walk across the meadow and up the path beyond. She would gather a skirt full of flowers to put on the mantel.
Finding the little boy turned out to be quite a challenge. She went downstairs and stood at the entrance to the great hall, waiting for one of the soldiers to notice her. There were four men tearing at the far wall and another three high up on the roof, working on the slats.
Everyone seemed to notice her at once. The pounding stopped. Since they were all staring at her, she made a curtsy in greeting before asking if they knew where Alex might be.
No one answered her. She was feeling extremely selfconscious. She repeated her question but kept her gaze centered on the soldier standing in front of the hearth. He smiled, scratched his beard, and then shrugged at her.
Finally Gabriel’s first-in-command explained. “They don’t understand you, m’lady.”
She turned to the soldier and smiled. “They speak only Gaelic, m’lord?”
“Aye,” he answered. “They speak only Gaelic. Please, you needn’t call me your lord. I’m only a soldier here. Calum will do.”
“As you wish, Calum.”
“You’re a bonny lass, wearing our plaid.”
He seemed embarrassed giving her that compliment. “Thank you,” she answered, wondering what the word bonny meant.
She turned back to the men watching her and asked them her question in Gaelic. She frowned with concentration. The language was difficult, tongue twisting in fact when she was so nervous inside, but when she’d finished her question, only one of the older men openly winced. The others smiled.
Still no one answered her. They all turned to stare at the hem of her gown. She looked down to see if something was amiss. Then she turned to Calum, hoping for an explanation. His eyes, she noticed, sparkled with amusement.
“You asked them if they’d seen your feet, m’lady.”
“I meant to ask if they’d seen Gabriel’s son,” she explained.
Calum gave her the proper word to use. She again turned and repeated her question.
The men shook their heads. She thanked them for their attention and turned to leave. Calum hurried ahead of her to open the door.
“I must work on my accent,” she announced. “I could tell from that one gentleman’s expression I was making a muck of it.”
Aye, she was making a muck of it, Calum thought to himself. He wasn’t about to agree, however, because he didn’t want to injure her feelings.
“The men appreciate the fact that you’re trying, m’lady.”
“It’s the burr, Calum,” Johanna decided. “I haven’t quite captured it yet. It’s a very challenging language,” she added. “You could be a help if you would.”
“How?” he asked.
“From this moment on, speak only Gaelic when you address me. I believe I’ll catch on much quicker if your language is all I hear.”
“Certainly,” Calum agreed in Gaelic.
“I said certainly, m’lady,” Calum explained.
She smiled. “Have you seen Alex?”
He shook his head. “He might be down at the stables,” he said. He spoke in Gaelic and pointed in the direction of the stables in an attempt to help her guess what he’d just said.
Because she was concentrating on interpreting what he was saying to her, she barely paid any attention to what was going on in the courtyard. There were soldiers everywhere, but she didn’t notice what they were doing.
She finally figured out what Calum had said, blurted out her thank you, and went running across the yard.
She suddenly found herself in the middle of a sparring exercise. Calum grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her back just in the nick of time. A lance nearly sliced her down the middle.
One of the Maclaurin soldiers let out a loud expletive. Gabriel had been watching the sparring from the opposite side of the yard. He saw his wife’s near miss and immediately shouted a halt to the training session.
Johanna was horrified by her own behavior. Such inattention was shameful. She picked up the lance the soldier had dropped and handed it to the man. His face was flaming red. She didn’t know if he was embarrassed or furious.
“Pray forgive me, sir. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
The dark-haired soldier gave her a quick nod. Calum still had his hands on her shoulders. He gently tugged her back.
She turned to thank him for his quickness in coming to her aid. She spotted her husband coming her way. Her smile faltered when she took in the look on his face.
The soldiers were all staring at her. The MacBain warriors were smiling. The Maclaurins were frowning.
That mixed reaction confused her. Then Gabriel was standing in front of her, blocking her view. His attention was centered on Calum. He didn’t say a word, just frowned at the soldier. Johanna realized Calum still had hold of her. The minute the soldier released his grip, his laird turned his attention and his scowl on her.
Her heart started pounding with her fear. She desperately tried to hold onto her composure. She wasn’t about to let him know how frightened she was.
She decided not to give him time to berate her. “I was very inattentive, m’lord, sinfully so. I could have been killed.”
He shook his head. “You could not have been killed. You insult Calum by suggesting he would have allowed you injury.”
She wasn’t going to argue with her husband. “I meant no insult,” she said. She turned to Calum. “Please accept my apology. I wished to soften my husband’s anger with me by being the first to acknowledge my foolishness.”
“Do you have a problem with your sight?” Gabriel asked.
“No,” she answered.
“Then why in God’s name didn’t you see my men were fighting with weapons?”
She mistook his exasperation for anger. “I have explained, m’lord. I wasn’t paying attention.”