Read Highland Spitfire Online

Authors: Mary Wine

Highland Spitfire (14 page)

BOOK: Highland Spitfire
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“As for that, it’s me brother’s dilemma how to deal with yer nature.”

She held her chin steady, feeling the weight of everyone watching them. Her pride
was chafing.

“Is this to be the way of it, then?” Ailis gestured toward Finley and Lyel.

Marcus folded his arms over his chest and spread his feet, making himself look huge
and impossible to move. “Aye. I can nae have ye carrying secrets back to yer father
and brothers.”

“I am nae going home.” Even if it was sounding more and more like a necessity.

Marcus shook his head. “But ye still call it home, now don’t ye, lass?”

She tried to bring her tone under control. “Surely ye can nae expect me to call MacPherson
Castle home when I have been here but a day.”

“I do nae,” he answered gravely. “Which is why ye’ll be watched.”

He started to turn his back on her. “Heaven forbid I should feel welcome, like a bride.”

When he looked back at her, his lips were twisted into what might have been called
a grin, but on the War Chief of the MacPherson clan, it looked far more menacing.

“Ye are exactly that, Mistress Robertson. A bride, no’ a wife. So long as ye leave
the matter open for annulment, I will have ye watched. Ye can nae tell me yer brothers
would do any less if it were me sister walking freely through Robertson Castle.”

She wanted to hate him.

Wanted to curse him.

But she knew he had a valid point, and no matter now angry or lonely she was, she
couldn’t form an argument against it.

* * *

“I’m taking a bath, so get ye gone.”

Finley snorted, but it was Lyel who answered. “We do nae answer to ye.”

Behind her there was a splash as the last of several buckets was emptied into the
tub she’d had brought up the stairs. Two boys hurried out of the room, crossing themselves
out of fear.

Her teeth were ready to break from how hard she was clenching her jaw.

It wasn’t so much that she needed a bath. What she was needed was a place to hide
from the cutting looks and snide comments. For sure, there would be grumbling over
her asking to have the tub filled, but she honestly didn’t care anymore. The sun was
starting to set, tightening the apprehension that had been brewing in her since Bhaic
had issued his command that morning.

“Here now…” Helen appeared at the top of the steps. Her arms were full of toweling
and several bundles. “What are ye two doing inside the mistress’s chambers with her
making ready to bathe? Go on, before I set the priest on ye for trying to spy a glance
of another man’s wife.”

She brushed right past them and jerked her head at them. “I told ye…get. And close
that door all the way. I’ll tear a strip off yer backs if I hear the hinge creaking.”

Finley was bending, moving to the other side of the door. “We’ll be right here.” He
paused with his hand on the door pull. “And I mean, right here.” He tapped the floor
with his foot.

Helen turned around and sent the door shut with a push from her backside. There was
a snort from the other side as it closed.

“They’re just trying to put ye in yer place…” Helen muttered. “As if either of those
great gobs knows a bit about what yer place is.”

“Well, I would nae want to crush them by telling them that.”

Helen smiled and offered her a wink. “That’s the way to think about it all. Lord knows
ye’ll go daft if ye try to make sense of it.”

“I’m sure I’m nearly ready for Bedlam now,” Ailis confessed, feeling as tired as she

Helen moved over to a long table against one of the walls. She set down her bundles
and began opening them. “Aye. I suppose ye are. But it will get easier, when the castle
folk get tired of their game. They will.”

Helen moved over to the hearth and poked at the fire, making sure the two kettles
were being heated. When she turned around, she caught Ailis staring at her.

“Ye’re likely wondering why I’m kind to ye.”

Ailis shrugged and sat down on a stool to begin taking off her shoes. “In truth, I’m
too much of a coward to ask ye, fearing ye’ll realize yer error and turn mean.”

Helen’s face lit with a smile as laughter spilled out of her. She wasn’t that old.
Possibly even the same age as Ailis herself. She had hazel eyes with golden highlights
and sable-brown hair. She kept it hidden under a kitchen cap, but wisps of it had
escaped to frame her face with tiny ringlets.

“I was born a Grant.” Helen made her way back to the table and rummaged through the
things she’d brought. “Me father had a dispute with some MacPherson retainers. It
was sorted out, but they stole me away to make sure me kin would nae retaliate, in
the event they were not as satisfied with the settlement as they said they were.”

“That’s why yer arisaid is no’ a plaid.”

Helen looked over her shoulder and sent Ailis a satisfied smile. “Indeed. For certain,
some will call me stubborn, but I’ll be keeping everyone guessing as to me true thoughts.”

“Is that why ye called me mistress?”

Helen shook her head and gave her a disbelieving look. “I called ye what ye are.”

“Mistress of a castle full of my enemies.”

Helen sent her a sidelong look. “Ye look fit to take them on. In truth, I believe
I am going to enjoy being near ye. It’s been too long since I’ve had a good bit of

Ailis burst out laughing.

Helen tossed a small cream-colored item up and down as she came back toward Ailis.
“Soap. Duana wanted to tell me I could nae have it for ye, but I made sure to ask
for it in front of witnesses. For all her spite, she’s not stupid. The young Tanis
was fighting for ye today. She’ll no’ risk having him displeased with her over something
like a piece of soap.”

“I suddenly see the merit in this union if there are truly people willing to take
spite so far as a lump of soap.”

“Aye, ’tis a sad state of affairs,” Helen agreed.

Ailis dropped her shoes and untied her garters. She pushed her stockings down and
stood up. Helen helped her untie and unlace until she was in just her skin. One of
the kettles started to sputter, the water inside it boiling and sending just enough
of it out of the spout to hit the flames.

Helen went to fetch it. She used her arisaid to protect her hand as she lifted the
kettle and brought it over to the tub. The water flowed from the spout in a steaming
stream, hissing as it hit the cold water. Helen dunked the empty kettle back into
the tub to fill it and set it over the fire. She added the second kettle before using
a paddle to stir the water.

“Come now. We’d best get to it, or we’ll be late to supper table. Yon retainers will
likely use any tardiness as an excuse to break down the door.”

“No doubt,” Ailis agreed.

Ailis left her hair up, because there wasn’t time to wash it. The hot water had taken
the chill off the water in the tub, but it was still only tepid. That didn’t stop
her from enjoying it. The soap had lavender oil in it, and she smiled as she rubbed
it along her arms and legs.

A bell started to toll in the distance.

“Out with ye now. That’s the cook telling everyone she’s beginning to set supper out.”

Helen had warmed a length of towel in front of the hearth. She wrapped it around Ailis
as she stepped out of the tub.

There was a rap on the door. “Mistress…supper is on the table…”

Helen smothered a giggle. “Men are simple creatures. They want their hungers satisfied.
Remember that, and ye’ll be just fine.”

She wasn’t likely to forget it.

“I brought ye a new chemise. I suggest we rinse out yer other one here, for there’s
no telling if the laundress will take her spite out on it if we give it to her.”

“Aye.” Ailis lifted her arms, and Helen helped her into her chemise. It fluttered
down her body, but the moment she could see again, she gasped.

Bhaic was standing inside the open door.

“Whooo…now that is a fine set of bosoms!” Finley exclaimed.

“I warned ye.” Helen grabbed the paddle she’d stirred the bath water with and went
tearing after Finley.

Bhaic jumped out of her way as the two retainers stumbled, trying to flee down the

“I suppose that’s one way to deal with them,” he said with a chuckle.

Bhaic kicked the door shut and turned back to face her.

“Ye might have knocked.” Ailis propped her hands on her hips. “I realize everyone
in this castle seems to think they need to know our personal business, but did ye
truly need to let that fat, smelly fart see me bare?”

Bhaic peered at her with an incredulous expression for at least one minute before
he started chuckling. “Fat, smelly fart?”

Then he was laughing so hard his eyes squeezed shut.

She groaned and picked up her skirt to shield herself. “Go on with ye. I’ll be down
as soon as I’ve dressed. Ye did nae need to fetch me. I am no’ spying.”

So accustomed to being trusted, she felt keenly the suspicion surrounding her.

He sobered. “I suppose ’tis been a long day for ye.”

There was a hint of compassion in his tone. She shied away from it, unwilling to let
him see her wounds. She gestured him toward the door with her hand. “I’ll be along,
and in any event, I’m sure yer brother’s men will make sure of it.”

“Helen seems to have run them off.”

“I’m sure ye’ll feel the need to warn her against doing that as well.” She hadn’t
meant to let the words out, but the day had worn down her resolve.

Bhaic slowly grinned. “I’m pretty sure she’d ignore me. Figures ye’d manage to find
the only lass in the kitchens with a reason to want to needle me and me brother.”

“It’s no’ as if either of us has many options as far as finding pleasant company.”
She forced herself to drop her skirt. The man had seen her in a chemise before. “But
she’s the one being kind to me.”

Now he’s seen ye without it too…

Well, that was just fine as well. She sat down and pulled her stockings on, tying
her garters to keep them secure. She pushed her feet into her ankle boots before tugging
the laces tight and standing up.

“I believe I am going to owe her a boon.” Ailis secured her hip roll as Bhaic spoke.
Next came her skirts. Her fingers were shaking as she reached for them.

Stop being a ninny; ye’re dressing, not undressing…

Not that being clothed would keep him from having her if he wanted.

“Because I came to ask ye to run away with me. Having her chase off yer escort is
right timely.”

She’d lifted her skirt up and had to pull it down before she might look at him. He’d
bent down and picked up her overskirt.

“Have a notion to try yer luck at me father’s table?” she asked. No matter how nervous
she was, she couldn’t help but laugh at the idea.

Bhaic grinned. “Nay. I’m no’ sure I’m as good at holding me temper as ye are.”

She took her overskirt from him and got into it, tying it closed before he handed
her the bodice.

“I’ve no taste for the scrutiny either,” he offered as she worked the laces through
the eyelets on her bodice.

“So I came up here to ask ye to run away with me for an evening ride,” he continued,
“but I’ll admit, I found myself tongue-tied when I realized I’d be asking ye to put
yer clothes back on for it. Part of me rebels completely at that idea.”

He was chuckling again, his features transforming into a visage that was really quite

“No’ sure yer reputation will survive such a thing?” she teased.

“No’ if Marcus hears of it,” he confirmed gravely.

“Or Angus?”

Bhaic nodded agreement. “Among others.”

They were both smiling, clearly still unsure about being easy in each other’s company.

There was a rap on the door, and Helen pushed it in a moment later. “Left those fools
at the base of the stairs, and if they do nae want their skulls caved in, they’ll
stay there.”

She stopped abruptly as she found herself facing Bhaic, but she didn’t simper in front
of him, only gave him a nod before scooping up Ailis’s arisaid and beginning to fold
it on the table.

With Helen’s help, Ailis was soon finished. Bhaic offered her his hand. She didn’t
ponder the decision long. If there was an alternative to sitting through another supper
in the hall, she’d take it.

Even if it included the rather unsettling persona of her husband.

He clasped her hand, his eyes flickering with enjoyment.

“Helen, ye have no idea where we’ve gone.”

“I feel me memory clouding. However…” Helen crossed to them and unbuckled Ailis’s
belt. “Ye’ll be wanting to leave these Robertson colors here, else everyone will take
notice of yer passing.”

Helen pulled her own arisaid loose and handed it to Ailis. Bhaic took the length of
wool and slung it over his shoulder.

Bhaic pulled her toward the door, but looked back at Helen. “And warn the laundress
that I’ll be having words with anyone who forgets Ailis is me bride.”

Helen scoffed at him. “Ye may do that yerself.” She scooped up the chemise and walked
to the tub to dunk it. “I’d rather look after the lass meself than tangle with the
lot of women ye have in this castle. Arrogant lot. It’s no wonder most of the babes
have red hair. No one is willing to wed an outsider. Mark me words, that sort of thing
makes the blood thin.”

* * *

“I truly like Helen.”

They’d crossed into the stairway. Bhaic looked back at her. “Because she told me nay?”

Ailis nodded.

He rolled his eyes, but the grin stayed on his lips. “Suppose she’s entitled. I forgot
she was here.”

He pulled her up the stairs and across a landing before going down another set on
the other side of the tower.

“How could ye forget something like that? And how long has she been here?”

“Since last spring.” He shrugged and kept going, pulling her along behind him. “I
was nae the one who took her. Marcus did.” They made it to the bottom of the stairs.
He pulled her close as he looked into the passageway. He tapped his lips with his
finger, warning her to be silent. Finley and Lyel were leaning against the stone wall
on the other side of the landing, both of them looking up.

BOOK: Highland Spitfire
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Murder in the Cotswolds by Nancy Buckingham
Say When by Tara West
Two Sinful Secrets by Laurel McKee
Lord Langley Is Back in Town by Elizabeth Boyle
A Winter's Rose by Erica Spindler