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Lady Patience allowed her future brother-in-law to escort her onto the dance floor. She smiled as he glanced over his shoulder at her sister, Constance, and his grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Lyndham. With an imperialistic demeanor, the elderly lady had ordered Constance to sit with her while sending her grandson away to dance with Patience.
“You mustn’t worry,” she said quietly. “My sister hasn’t slightest idea what we’re up to. Your grandmother is playing her part beautifully.”
“I’m beginning to regret agreeing to this deception,” Lucien Blakemore, Earl of Lyndham said with a growl. “Constance does not like to be manipulated.”
“Do you love my sister, my lord?”
“With every fiber of my being.” The intensity of emotion in his voice made Patience’s heart swell with happiness for her sister.
“Then trust me,” Patience said softly. “Let your grandmother work her magic and all will be well. My sister loves you. She simply needs to know that you love her completely as she is. You do understand what that means.”
“Yes,” he said with a sharp nod. “Without her gift, she wouldn’t be my Constance. The woman I fell in love with.”
“I have no doubt that when you tell her that, she’ll believe you love her,” Patience said reassuringly.
With a nod, the earl pulled her into his arms and twirled her out onto the dance floor with the other dancers. Over his shoulder, Patience saw her sister frown at something the dowager countess said. She laughed softly at her sister’s obstinate frown.
“I like your grandmother very much, Lucien,” Patience said as she smiled up at her partner. “You don’t mind that I call you Lucien, do you? After all, we’re practically family.”
“You’re quite confident about all of this,” he said with a small smile.
“If I weren’t, I would never have approached you with this plan in the first place.” Patience laughed mischievously and over Lucien’s shoulder she saw her sister walking out of the ballroom with Lady Lyndham. She tapped her future brother-in-law on the shoulder.
“The curtain is about to go up on the final act of our little performance. You’d best follow them now.” Lucien guided her off the dance floor and carried her hand up to his lips.
“If this works, I’ll be forever in your debt.”
“Yes, you will, and any Rockwood will assure you I always collect on my debts,” Patience said with another laugh. “Now go make my sister happy.”
With a look of determination on his face, Lucien nodded then pushed his way through the crowd and out the door Constance and the dowager had passed through. Left behind, Patience stared after him feeling satisfied that she’d played a role in securing her sister’s happiness.
She closed her eyes for a brief moment as she remembered her vision of Constance’s future happiness. It would a long and happy one. Of all the Rockwood siblings, Patience was the most forthcoming about her gift. If there was anything people could say about her, it was that she was as eccentric as she was impulsive. Traits that indicated she was a true Rockwood.
But it was her eccentricity that had put off suitors. The ones who had come calling had left as soon as they learned she had the ability to see things. Whether it was because she was simply different or that they envisioned her gift would allow her to spy on them, she had no idea. Over time she gave up caring and had made herself happy in her role as the spinster in the Rockwood family.
All of that had changed when Julian had entered her life. He’d been neither put off by her impulsive mannerisms or her gift. The an dara sealladh, as Julian called it, was viewed as a gift by his countrymen. The thought of her husband, made Patience’s heart ache. He’d been in Scotland helping his father, the Crianlarich, for the past two months with estate business.
Despite the multiple letters they shared each week, she missed him more with each passing day. Aunt Matilda had urged her to join Julian in Scotland, but Patience knew it would only make things difficult for them both. If she’d gone, her father-in-law would have ensured her stay was as unpleasant as possible. It would have also made things more contentious between Julian and his father.
The Crianlarich had taken a dislike to her before she’d ever met him. Instead of taking a Scottish bride as his father had demanded, Julian had chosen her. Patience had been settled firmly on the shelf when Julian had entered her life. He’d pursued her relentlessly from the moment they met at a dinner party she accompanied Aunt Matilda to during a stay at Callendar Abbey.
It had taken him only two weeks to propose and convince her to marry him. Just like their whirlwind courtship, their wedding had been accomplished in less than a month. Although Patience was certain Fergus MacTavish loved his son, the Crianlarich was a hard man. She knew that from experience. The man had almost refused to welcome her into the castle shortly after the wedding when Julian had taken her home to meet his father and sister.
Like his father, Julian was incredibly stubborn. He’d threatened to leave Crianlarich Castle and never return if Fergus MacTavish didn’t welcome her as Julian’s bride. It was the ultimate testimony of her husband’s love for her. He’d chosen Patience over his father’s objections. But something deep inside said the Crianlarich’s vehement reservations had been because he questioned her suitability based on her age and her ability to bear a child.
A vise wrapped itself around Patience’s heart. In less than a year of marriage she’d not been able to bear a son. Perhaps Fergus MacTavish was right. Marrying her might have been the worst thing Julian could ever have done. Suddenly feeling more alone than ever before, she released a sigh. While she had no desire to go home to a cold, empty bed, she had even less of a desire to remain here.
Patience glanced around for the shortest, yet least sociable, path through the crowd to the ballroom exit. She’d taken only a few steps when a frisson brushed across the back of her neck and shoulders. It was like a cool summer breeze skimming across her skin. Confused by the sensation, she lightly touched the spot where her neck and shoulder met then turned her head to study the dancers leaving the dance floor.
In a gentle wave of motion, the dancers parted, and her breath caught in her throat. From across the dance floor Patience met her husband’s dark gaze. Julian was here. But he hadn’t sent any word he was coming back to London today. Had he sensed her loneliness in her letters?
Dressed in the formal Scottish attire that had been made popular by the Queen’s love of Scotland, her husband looked splendid. His strong, ruggedly beautiful, male features were drawing a great deal of attention, and Patience was warmed by the knowledge that Julian belonged to her and no other woman.
He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, his gaze pinned on her as if he was a bird of prey and she was a small hare. It was a familiar, yet delicious, sensation where Julian was concerned. He was far too sure of himself to show jealousy. But if there was one thing her husband had always done well, it was to make certain other men knew she was his. It made her feel cherished and coveted.
As they studied each other across the floor, Patience drank in the fine figure he made in his formal attire. She’d always enjoyed seeing her brothers wear the Stewart colors on formal occasions, but Julian had never just worn his kilts, he made the kilt wear him. Silver buttons adorned his dark blue Prince Charlie jacket and matching waistcoat, which were a stark contrast to his crisply starched white shirt and black tie.
The formal, waist-length jacket lovingly embraced the breadth of him, while an elegant fly plaid was draped over the back of his left shoulder. It was held in place by the large silver brooch his mother had given him when he was a child. He wore the dark-red tartan of the MacTavish clan, and the sporran attached to his kilt hung just below his waist, while the kilt brushed the top of his bare knees.
Black hose covered strong, muscular calves, and short tails of material known as flashes were tucked under the top of the hose to brush the sides of his legs. Patience’s heart skipped a beat as she remembered how her legs had often tangled with his when they’d made love. Desire spiraled through her as she stared at her husband.
Dark hair fell carelessly across his brow giving him the appearance of a man who cared little for what others thought. His sharp, angular features were those of a proud, arrogant Highlander, which his stance emphasized. In another era, he could have easily passed for a fierce, warrior Scotsman.
Excitement fluttered through her as Julian slowly made his way toward her. Mesmerized, Patience stood frozen as his gaze never left hers. Music filled the air as he stopped in front of her and offered his hand to her. He didn’t say a word. Strong and masculine, his hand was fully capable of crushing hers, but it had only ever been used in tenderness with her. Obediently, she placed her hand in his.
The instant she did so, the wave of heat rolling over her made her draw in a sharp breath. His gaze immediately narrowed, and a small smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. God, how she’d missed him. In silence, he pulled her into his arms and swung her out onto the dance floor.
Mere inches separated them, and Patience breathed in his crisp pine scent. It reminded her of the woods at her aunt’s estate in Scotland. It was the smell of the outdoors, and it was a heady aroma. Strength radiated off of him, and she stumbled slightly. He immediately pulled her close, his arm hard and solid around her waist.
“Are you the same Lady Patience that is married to that scoundrel Julian MacTavish?” The softly spoken question reverberated with humor, and Patience arched her eyebrows at him.
“I am indeed, sir,” she said. “And what of it, might I ask.”
“I’ve heard he has been neglecting his wife.”
“I had heard that rumor as well, sir.” Patience schooled her features into a serious expression and nodded. “Do you suppose he intends to remedy that woeful situation?”
“Aye, that he does.” A wicked gleam in his eye, Julian smiled. “How can he no’, when he’s married to the most beautiful woman in the room.”
“With words like that, I think MacTavish will find his wife eager for him to correct such a deplorable state of marital bliss.” She laughed as she met his mischievous gaze, and his mouth curved into a sinful smile.
“And what types of pleasure do you think MacTavish’s wife would enjoy the most?” Julian’s brogue whispered against her skin like a wisp of heather from the highlands.
“As I recall, there is one particular pleasure she likes very much. Of course, it does require one to remove their clothes.” Patience looked up at him innocently then smiled as his eyes darkened with desire.
“You are a sassy wench, Lady Patience. I will remember that when we get home.”
Julian swung her around the dance floor, and she basked in the heat of his passionate gaze. A bolt of desire sliced through her as she imagined herself entwined in his arms once they were home. Patience’s body grew warm at the delightful images flowing through her mind, but in the next instant, her happiness was overwhelmed by fear and confusion.
Wheels from an overturned carriage spun wildly in the air before fire and smoke surrounded her. No matter what direction she moved, the smoke made it difficult to breathe while flames painfully seared her skin. As the fire raged around her, she tried to find a way out, but she couldn’t move.
Suddenly the flames were gone and in their place was the image of her arm and face covered with horrific scars and mottled flesh. Frightened by the terrible image, Patience gasped as a chill wrapped itself around her and the images receded into the background.
“Patience. What is it a shùgh mo chridhe.” Julian’s voice was rough concern as he stared down at her. “Tell me what you see.”
“What?” she whispered in a state of bewilderment.
Someplace deep inside she noted that even with a frown of worry on his face, her husband was still devastating to the senses. As her bemusement slowly faded, she regained her focus on her surroundings. Suddenly, she realized Julian was literally carrying most of her weight as he continued to twirl her around the dance floor.
“You must put me down, Julian. Someone will think something is amiss.”
“That is stating the obvious, my bonnie lass,” he said in a grim voice. “But I think it better we leave the floor rather than me setting you on your feet and you tumbling to the floor.”
“Yes,” she said hoarsely. “I think you’re right.”
With two more graceful turns, Julian maneuvered them close to one of the open doors leading out onto the terrace. As they reached the edge of the dance floor, Julian set Patience on the floor in a fluid movement that disguised the fact that he’d been carrying her throughout the dance. His arm still wrapped around her waist, he held her close so she could lean against his side. The moment they merged into the throng congregating around the dance floor, several people expressed concern for her. With a polite, yet firm manner, Julian brushed their fears aside as he guided Patience toward door leading into the dark.
Even the cool air on her face did little to make her feel better. It was far too reminiscent of the icy cold that had engulfed her as her vision had faded. With a small sound of dismay, she glanced down at her arm as she remembered the mottled skin she’d seen on her arm and face. She was no more vain than the next person, but she had no desire to suffer from burns so terrible as to leave such horrible scars.
“It will soon pass, mo leannan,” he whispered against her brow as he guided her toward the outer edges of the walled terrace that overlooked the gardens.
Patience loved hearing him call her sweetheart in Gaelic. It was a soothing sound that warmed and reassured her that she was safe with Julian at her side. With a nod, she breathed the cool air into her lungs as the weakness and disorientation that always accompanied her visions began to ebb away.
When they reached the waist-high wall that bordered the terrace, Julian slowly withdrew his support ensuring she wouldn’t collapse at his feet. Without thinking, Patience stared down at her arm once more, fully expecting to see scarred tissue. The untouched skin made her drag in a breath of relief.
“Tell me what the an dara sealladh, showed you, mo leannan.” His brogue gained strength as the Gaelic rolled off his tongue. From the moment they’d met, Julian had only to speak and she was putty in his hands. She shook her head.
“It was nothing,” she said softly with a shake of her head as she remembered the vivid memory of her burned face and arm. “I’m sure of it.”
“That is no’ an answer, Mrs. MacTavish.” The commanding note in his voice said he would have the truth from her one way or another.
“Honestly, Julian, there was no rhyme or reason to it.” Patience eyed him with a small amount of frustration. The dark frown on his face made her soften her tone. “I saw an overturned carriage with its wheels spinning wildly in the air. Then I was surrounded by flames and smoke. You know my gift is sometimes nothing more than symbols representing things happening around me.”
“Aye, but your aunt wrote me that you had the same vision when you were with her last week.” He paused for a moment as his large hand caressed her cheek. “She said you were left quite shaken by it.”
“Aunt Matilda is far too busy meddling in the affairs of the Rockwood family and not her own personal matters,” Patience said with exasperation.
“I think that is something akin to the pot calling the kettle black, considering you are here tonight meddling in your sister’s personal affairs.” The amusement in his voice made her jerk in surprise.
“Who told you?” Patience exclaimed then quickly shook her head as she rolled her eyes. “Aunt Matilda.”
“Aye,” he chuckled. “She’s a veritable fount of information when it comes to the Rockwood clan. But she was right to send me word of your vision and its effect on you.”
“I’m so glad you’re home,” Patience said softly as she brushed her fingers across his temple. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“No’ as much as I have missed you mo ghràdh.”
The Gaelic term for ‘my love’ filled her heart with happiness. From the moment they’d met it had been Julian’s brogue that had seduced her. He whispered more endearments as he pulled her into his arms. How she’d missed him these past two months. The nearness of him made her tremble, while the potent, male scent of him filled her senses.
“You tremble, lass,” he murmured with a hint of laughter in his voice as he bent his head to nibble at her earlobe. “Are you afraid of me?”
“No,” she whispered as her body responded to the playful nip on her ear. “I’m only afraid you’ll leave again.”
“You need have no’ fear of that, mo ghràdh. I’ve no intention of doing so.”
Julian’s fingers caught her chin and tilted her head up to kiss her hard. Muscular arms held her in a tight embrace. Her hands splayed against the lapels of his jacket, the hard, solid muscles of his chest pressed into her palms and made her ache to see him undressed. The furious beat of his heart pounded against her fingertips betraying his excitement.
His tongue slipped past her lips and mated with hers in a furious duel of heat and passion. A primitive need threatened to consume her as her body craved what she’d been denied for so long. In a wanton display of desire, she pressed her body into his and rubbed her hips against him in a silent demand for what only he could give her.
A dark growl vibrated out of his chest as he roughly caught her hand and dragged it down to where he was rock hard beneath his kilt. Knowing he held tight to the tradition of wearing nothing beneath his Scottish garb, her fingers grabbed the side of his tartan and quickly scrunched it up. The plaid material fell over her wrist as she slipped her hand beneath his kilt to slide her palm up the inside of a sturdy thigh before grasping him firmly.
Thick and hard against her fingers, she stroked his erection in an upward movement until her thumb ran over the tip of him. A small droplet of wet desire clung to the swollen cap of his hard length, and she smeared it over his foreskin. The low groan rumbling in his chest indicated how much he liked what she was doing. She stroked him slowly again, and another guttural sound escaped him as he thrust his hips forward against her hand.
Dark hair fragrant with a mixture of soap and bergamot brushed her cheek as he lowered his head to caress the side of her neck and shoulders with his mouth. She tightened her grip on him and slid her fingers upward with a small jerk then back down to where his sacs were. The tips of her fingers scraped across them, and he jerked at the light caress.
Julian sucked in a sharp breath, and in the next instant, his hands were resting on her shoulders as he held her at arm’s length. The desire blazing in his gaze threatened to singe her as she looked up into his dark brown eyes. His breathing harsh and rapid, Julian shook his head as if to clear it.
“No’ here, mo ghràdh,” he ground out harshly. “I intend to bed my wife in the privacy of our own bedroom, because once I start, I’ll no’ be able to let her out of our bed.”
“Then I suggest we leave now, Mr. MacTavish, or I’ll be tempted to punish my husband by dancing the night away with as many men as possible.” The look of possessiveness that darkened Julian’s face made her laugh. “I take it you disapprove of my alternate plan of action.”
“Aye,” he snapped as he pulled her back into his arms. “You are mine mo ghràdh, and do no’ you ever forget it.”
“I won’t,” she said as she pull his head down and kissed him gently. The sudden echo of a cane tapping the flagstone patio made Patience jump, and Julian slowly released her.
“Lady Patience?” The aristocratic notes of the dowager Countess of Lyndham’s voice filtered through the air. Patience moved out of the darkness followed by Julian.
“I’m here, my lady.”
“Excellent, someone said you had come out to the terrace,” the woman said as she lifted her lorgnette to inspect Patience’s appearance. “You’re flushed, child.”
“Am I?” Patience touched her cheek with a small laugh of embarrassment.
The stately dowager countess braced both hands on the top of her cane to study Julian who had moved to stand at Patience’s side. The woman arched her eyebrows as her gaze ran up and down him. With her eyes still focused on Julian, the elderly woman’s mouth twisted in a small smile of appreciation
“Now I understand why your cheeks are hot with color, Lady Patience,” the woman said with a distinct note of amusement in her voice. Patience could feel her cheeks grow even hotter beneath the dowager countess’ amused look. With a laugh, she shook her head at the elderly woman.
“Lady Lyndham, may I present my husband, Julian MacTavish,” Patience said with a distinct note of happiness in her voice. Lady Lyndham extended her hand, and Julian kissed the woman’s fingers with a small flourish.
“I am honored to at long last meet the elusive Dowager Countess of Lyndham.” Julian’s smile was designed to melt a woman’s heart, and for a brief second Patience experienced a twinge of jealousy.
“Elusive? Ha,” the elderly woman said with an unladylike snort of laughter. “You might be able to charm all the women here, but I’m far too old for flattery, my boy.”
“I can no’ believe that, my lady. A woman should never tire of being told how delightful her company is, no matter her age.”
Lady Lyndham laughed again as she dismissed his flirtation with a wave of her hand, but there was a distinct look of pleasure on her face at Julian’s compliment. The dowager turned toward Patience.
“My dear, might I borrow your carriage to take me home? My grandson is otherwise occupied, which is an excellent sign of his reconciliation with Constance,” the dowager said with a smile. “But I have no idea how long they’ll be, and I confess I am weary from all the excitement.”
“Of course,” Patience exclaimed softly as she noted the sudden look of exhaustion that swept over the elderly woman’s face. “We were actually thinking of going home ourselves.”
“It would be our pleasure to take you home, Lady Lyndham.” Julian offered his arm to the woman. “Shall we?”
With a pace that matched the dowager’s, Julian escorted the elderly woman back into the well-lit ballroom.
Patience’s eyes fluttered open as she covered her yawn with her hand. Dawn was barely peeking in through the bedroom curtains, and she sighed softly with happiness. Julian was home and all was right with her world.
“You’re beautiful, mo leannan. I will never be able to have enough of you.” The husky words startled her, and she jerked her head in his direction.
“Aye.” Propped up on his elbow, Julian’s head was cradled in his hand as he stared down at her. “I have been for some time now.”
“And you didn’t wake me,” she teased as she remembered how they’d spent themselves in passionate lovemaking when they’d returned home last night after seeing the Dowager Countess Lyndham home.
“No, I’ve been watching my wife as she slept.” There was something almost reverent in his voice that tugged at her heart. Patience turned on her side and reached up to trail her fingertips across his cheeks until they came to rest on his lips.
“I hope I didn’t snore,” she said with a mischievous smile.
“Just a gentle roar.” Julian’s eyes twinkled with amusement, and she quickly pushed him onto his back. She stared down at him in mock annoyance.
“A gentle roar? I’ll have you know I do not snore at all.”
“I’m sorry mo ghràdh.” He shook his head. “I do no’ lie, but it is a beautiful snore nonetheless.”
“I think perhaps I should punish you for such impertinence, Mr. MacTavish.”
“And what punishment might you inflict, madam?” His eyes darkened as his deep chuckle vibrated against the palm of her hand.
Patience lowered her head to flick her tongue over his left nipple before she grabbed it with her teeth and gently abraded it. The fresh scent of evergreen mixed with the heat of his skin and brushed against her nose as she breathed in the potent male smell of him. She nipped at him again, savoring the delicious taste of him against her tongue. The action pulled a low growl out of him. His hands cupped her face, but she pulled away to move her mouth lower to where he was already stiff and hard.
Feathering light kisses across his stomach, she blew gently on his erection before continuing to brush her mouth across his muscular hip down to his leg. He was hot and all male against her lips. Her mouth brushed over the small, birthmark on his hip that reminded her of a bird in flight. Gently, she bit down on the mauve colored flesh, marking as nature had. Another growl rumbled out of him, and she smiled against his skin before grazing her teeth across his leg to his inner thigh.
“If this is your form of punishment, mo leannan, I approve.”
“Do you?” she lifted her head and blew across his hard, thick length before her tongue flicked out to lightly trace its way up to the salty tip of him.
“Aye,” he said hoarsely as his fingers slipped through her hair to cradle the back of her head.
She blew across his erection again before her tongue swirled around the tip of him. Repeating the action, she heard him draw in a sharp hiss of air. Slowly, she licked across the top of him as she looked up at his face. Eyes closed, he arched his hips upward slightly in a silent request for her to continue.
When she didn’t move, his eyes opened, and she smiled at the frustration flashing in the dark depths of his eyes. Their gazes locked, she licked the tip of him once more as she might a spoon covered with the last traces of cream. A low groan reverberated out of him.
“Should I stop?” she murmured as her tongue swirled around him once more.
“God, no.” He shook his head forcefully. “But I’d rather have you astride me, lass. I want to feel you wrapped around me—milking me the way only you can.”
Ignoring his words, she swirled her tongue around the cap of his thick length before she took him completely into her mouth. The action pulled a dark cry from his throat as his lower body jerked hard in a display of pleasure. As she slid her mouth up and down over his erection, she applied pressure to the spot just behind his sacs that she’d discovered always enhanced his pleasure. Another groan of desire echoed above her head as she tightened her mouth on him. He jerked again before his hands firmly grasped her arms, and he dragged her upward to make her straddle him.
“No, mo ghràdh, you will have your satisfaction too,” he said.
As he spoke, he thrust hard up into her. Pleasure streaked through her as their bodies joined together, and he encouraged her to ride him hard. One strong hand curled around her hip, while his other pressed against her breast bone to force her backward until his hard, thick length hit a sensitive spot inside her that tugged a cry of pleasure from her throat and past her lips. Hands braced against his hard thighs, she arched her back and worshipped his body with hers as she met his thrusts with equal force.
With each stroke of her body against his, her heart beat faster as she cried out his name with the joy their lovemaking brought her. Heat spread its way through every cell in her body until she was on fire. A familiar sensation of euphoria began to build inside her, and she increased the pace of her body rocking against his.
Small ripples of pleasure pulled at her insides as her body gripped his with increasing pressure. The faster she moved against him, the more quickly her body pulsed against his. As her spasms increased, his body continued to pound violently against hers until in a fevered pitch of pleasure her body jerked to a stop. Her cry of satisfaction echoed over them as her insides shuddered and flexed around his thick erection.
A second later, his shout of pleasure matched hers as he made one last thrust into her then throbbed hard inside her. The intensity of their joining made her fall forward to press her forehead against hers. Harsh breaths emanated from both of them, and her heart was beating wildly in her chest.
Julian’s strong hands caressed her hips in a loving fashion before they slid up along her sides, and his large hands pulled her head down to him. With slow, tender kisses, his caresses left her sighing as she allowed her body to settle against his. Her head pressed into the curve of his shoulder, she breathed him into her senses once again. His was a unique aroma that was reminiscent of the beautiful, harsh, and wild highlands. It emphasized the man holding her came from a long line of fiercely proud and strong Scotsmen.
“I love you, Julian,” she whispered against his jaw. At her declaration he turned his head and pressed his lips to her brow.
“And I you, mo ghràdh,” he said with a rough edge of emotion in his voice. Nestled in his arms, Patience released a happy sigh, and a chuckle rumbled out of him. “I take it you are satisfied, Mrs. MacTavish?”
“For the moment,” she said with a laugh. His hand swatted her behind, and she yelped in surprise.
“My absence has turned you into an insatiable wench.” His fingers tilted her chin up so he could see her face. “But tis good to kno’ you missed me.”
“I did,” she whispered as she stroked a cheek rough with stubble. “Please don’t leave me alone for so long if you must go to Crianlarich.”
“I had no choice, Patience. My father had need of me, and I could no’ shirk my duty.”
Julian rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. The tension in him made her realize her refusal to go to Crianlarich had disappointed him. Worse, her request had sounded as if she didn’t want him to go back to his childhood home at all. She rested her hand on his heart as she curled into his side.
“I’m sorry, my darling. I didn’t mean it that way. I just missed you.”
“Then next time, come with me,” he said quietly. The statement made her stiffen.
“We both know that will make things more difficult for you.” She didn’t bother to elaborate that her father-in-law would do his best to make her miserable for the entire time she was at the castle.
“I kno’ my father is a hard man, Patience. But he had thought I would marry a bride of his choosing.”
“A bride who didn’t have English blood.”
“There’s more than enough Stewart blood in you to suit my fancy.”
“And what about a bride who cannot give you a son,” she choked out.
With a small jerk, she pulled away from him to roll onto her side with her back to him. The Crianlarich wanted a grandson, and she’d failed to produce another heir to the Crianlarich lineage. She wanted nothing more than to give Julian a son, but she had come to believe it would never happen. Julian’s hand caressed her shoulder as he kissed the nape of her neck.
“You do your name injustice, Patience. These things take time.”
“And time only proves your father right,” she said with self-pity. “Marrying me might have been the worst thing you’ve could ever have done.”
“Do no’ ever say that again,” he snapped harshly as with a sharp tug he forced her onto her back so he could stare down at her. The anger on his face made her eyes widen. “You’re mine, Patience MacTavish. I did no’ marry you because I needed an heir. I married you because I could no’ live without you.”
The fierce declaration made tears form in her eyes as she stared up at him. His harsh expression softened as he shook his head then kissed her gently.
“You belong to me, Patience.” A possessive note rang through his whisper as his gaze roved its way across her bare body before returning to her face. “Do no’ ever forget that.”
Patience nodded and cupped his cheek with her hand. Julian turned his face into her palm and pressed his mouth hard against her skin.
“Show me I’m yours,” she said softly. Desire darkened Julian’s face as the back of his hand brushed its way across the base of her neck.
“With pleasure, mo leannan. With pleasure,” he uttered hoarsely before his mouth captured hers in a passionate kiss.
The rattle of china pierced Patience’s sleep, and she sat up to see Julian seated at the breakfast table next to their bedroom window.
“Do you intend to spend the rest of the day in bed, Mrs. MacTavish?” he said without looking at her. The amusement in his voice made Patience toss a pillow at his head. For the past three days, he’d been the one insistent on spending most of the day in bed. Julian easily batted the stuffed headrest aside and turned his head to grin at her. She arched her eyebrows at him.
“I think I will, Mr. MacTavish. I feel quite spent,” she said with a feigned sigh of exhaustion. “Won’t you join me?”
Patience deliberately allowed the sheets to fall to her waist as she smiled sweetly at him. The newspaper in his hand fell carelessly onto the table as desire swept across his face. A wicked smile curved his sensual lips, while his hot gaze caressed her until her entire body ached for him to touch her. His smile widened, obviously aware of her arousal, before regret swept across his face. With a sigh, he shook his head.
“I can think of nothing that would give me greater pleasure, mo ghràdh. But if I come back to bed I’ll not leave it for the rest of the day.” Julian’s eyes darkened. “And as much as I would love pleasuring you until you truly are spent from my touch, I must meet with Lord Mayberry this morning.”
“I thought you said your meeting with him was tomorrow afternoon,” she said with a surprised frown. For a brief instant, she could have sworn Julian looked guilty before he smiled and shook his head.
“Did I? I obviously confused my dates,” he said with a sinful twist of his lips. “But how can I be faulted for confusing my appointments when my wife bewitches me so.”
“If I’m so bewitching, how are you able to resist me now?” she teased as she crawled out of bed and moved toward him. She smiled at the desire in her husband’s eyes as his gaze roamed over her naked body.
“God help me, Patience. You’ll be the death of me,” he muttered as she sat down in his lap.
One arm wrapped around his neck, she ran her hand across his shirt and bent her head to kiss his cheek. His hand warmed her skin as he lifted her bare breast to suckle her. A soft mewl escaped her lips, and she arched backward, enjoying the delightful sensation of his mouth tugging on her gently. With one last nip at the tip of her, he pulled her head down and kissed her hard. Then in an authoritative move he set her back on feet, turned her around, and swatted her bottom.
“Either get dressed or get back in bed. You’re far too distracting, and it’s not just Lord Mayberry I have to meet,” he growled with frustrated affection. “I have several matters of business for my father as well.”
“All right,” she said softly. “I have correspondence I’ve neglected for the past three days. When that’s finished, I’m sure I can find something to occupy my time while you complete whatever you need to do for your father.”
Patience circled the bed to pick her night robe up off the floor. The mere mention or thought of her father-in-law always put a damper on her mood. No matter how often Julian reassured her that his father wouldn’t come between them, it didn’t make her father-in-law’s contempt for her any easier to bear. She slipped her arms through the sleeves of her robe biting her lower lip.
The last time she’d seen Fergus MacTavish, Laird of Crianlarich, had been shortly after she and Julian were married. The Crianlarich had made her stay so unpleasant she’d vowed not to go back. Although Julian had shielded her whenever he could, it had not stopped his father’s vicious taunts and insults when they were out of Julian’s hearing.
Not even the occasional presence of Julian’s younger sister, Muireall, had provided any real buffer from the Crianlarich’s acerbic tongue. Patience’s fingers fumbled with the sash of her robe at the painful memory. A strong hand gripped her shoulder as Julian forced her to turn around.
“I’ve told you before, Patience. My father will never come between us.” His voice was soft, yet firm, as he cupped her face with his hands and kissed her gently. “I married you because I love you.”
“He might not come between us, but I’ll never come close to having his approval if I don’t give him a grandson. Your heir,” she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek against the soft, lightweight wool of his jacket.
“I told you the other night that it takes time, mo leannan.”
“How much time?” She pulled away from him as tears welled in her eyes. “How long before you believe what I already know? I’ve fulfilled your father’s prediction. I’m an Englishwoman who will never give you a son.”
“That’s enough, Patience.” Anger darkened Julian’s face as he eyed her sternly. “A son—or daughter for that matter—was never a condition of my marrying you.”
“But you can’t say you’re not disappointed.”
“Can you?” he asked gently. “I know you want to give me a son, mo ghràdh, but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll not stop loving you.”
Patience leaned into him again, and Julian engulfed her in his embrace. Even though she might be barren, he still loved her. The realization eased some of her heartache, but not completely. She longed to have Julian’s child.
“I must go, mo leannan,” Julian said with a tender kiss. “I can no’ miss my meeting with Lord Mayberry about the land values tax, and if I stay here with you I’ll most definitely no’ be meeting with the man.”
“Go, I’m sure you’ll be as persuasive with his lordship as you always are with me,” Patience said as she smoothed the lapels of his jacket, her fingers brushing across the Clan MacTavish brooch his mother had given him as a child. Her husband was far from a vain man, but the jewelry was one of his most cherished belongings, and he wore it always.
With one last kiss, Julian strode from the room. Listlessly, she moved to the breakfast table to scrape butter on a piece of toast. Patience took a bite, and hoping for one last look at Julian, she parted the window curtains slightly and looked down at the street. A hackney pulled up to the sidewalk just as Julian reached the bottom of the front steps.
About to release the sheer material, Patience froze as she saw a woman lean forward to extend her hand to Julian. Fiery auburn hair and a creamy complexion highlighted the woman’s beautiful face. Una Bensmore. She’d met the woman during her first and only stay at Crianlarich Castle.
The Scotswoman was a childhood friend who the Crianlarich had made clear was the bride he’d hand-picked for Julian. The woman’s flirtations with Julian had been just as upsetting as her father-in-law continuing to point out Patience’s inadequacies whenever possible. Why was Una in London, and why here at their house? Her attention swiftly jerked back to Julian who nodded at something the woman said.
The instant she saw Julian start to look upward, Patience dropped the curtain and drew away from the window. When she believed it safe, she peeked through the slit in the curtains again. She regretted doing so as she watched Julian climb into the two-seat cab with Una. Worse, she saw the woman looking up at her with a smile that reminded Patience of a cat who’d stolen cream from the pantry.
Patience immediately dropped the window curtain as jealousy reared its head. Why hadn’t Julian mentioned he would be seeing Una this morning? It was a rhetorical question. He’d most likely chosen to remain silent so as to not upset her. No doubt he’d remembered the fight they’d had about the woman during Patience’s one and only stay at Crianlarich Castle. They’d been married only two weeks before Julian had taken her home to meet his family. Except for the raw passion that existed between them, they’d known little about one another. Their short courtship meant misunderstandings had been inevitable. She flinched at the memory of the dinner party her father-in-law at arranged.
When Robert Bensmore and his daughters had arrived at the castle, Fergus MacTavish had spent the night subtly pointing out Una’s exceptional qualities whenever Julian was out of ear shot. It didn’t help matters that Una had the face of an angel. The woman had captivated Julian the entire evening. It had been the most painful thing Patience had ever experienced, and she was grateful when she was able to say goodnight. She’d barely been in her room more than a few minutes when Julian had come in with a frown on his face.
“Are you not feeling well?”
“I’m fine,” she said coolly.
“You barely spoke to anyone during the meal,” he said with a frown. “Even Una mentioned it when saying good night.”
“I find it difficult to believe the woman even realized I was in the room,” Patience said quietly.
She was grateful for her ability to respond in a calm, even tone of voice when what she wanted to do was scream at him. Not bothering to look in Julian’s direction she sat down at the dressing table and undid her hair to brush it. Julian came to stand behind her and touched the side of her neck.
“There’s no need to be jealous, mo leannan.”
His soft laugh infuriated her. The man had no idea what it had been like to watch Una fawn on him, all the while sending her the occasional gloating look. She looked up at him, and his amused expression made her spring to her feet as anger flowed hot and fast through her veins. Patience’s movement was so fast it sent the dressing table bench toppling to the floor and caused Julian to stare at her in stunned surprise. She glared at him.
“Do not laugh at me,” she bit out fiercely. Julian’s gaze narrowed.
“I am no’ laughing at you, Patience.” His body was stiff with resentment as his brogue thickened with irritation.
“You are,” she said in a tight voice. “Do you think I don’t know why your father asked the Bensmores to come this evening?”
“The Bensmores are family friends.” Julian shook his head with exasperation. “Caitriona, Una, and I played together as children. My father has them for dinner quite often.”
“She isn’t just a family friend. She’s the woman your father chose to be your bride.”
“It does no’ matter what my father wished. You’re the one I married,” Julian said angrily. “Una has never been anything more than a close family friend.”
“Close friend?” she sneered and glared at him for being so obtuse where the other woman was concerned. “From Miss Bensmore’s manner tonight, I would have supposed your relationship much more intimate.”
“You go too far, Patience.” His voice was hard and flat with fury.
“Do I? The woman made it quite obvious you had only to ask and she would slip into your bed,” she bit out as fear and suspicion became an insidious vine snaking its way through her.
“You do no’ have much faith in your husband’s love, Mrs. MacTavish.” His face was grim, and she saw the flicker of disappointment and pain in his dark eyes.
“No more than you have in me when I point out the obvious,” she snapped as she fought to keep the tears out of her voice. She turned away from Julian and moved toward the bed, but he followed her, the heat of him warming her back. His fingers trailed a light path across her shoulder.
“I love you, Patience. I have since the moment I first laid eyes on you.”
“That is the crux of the problem,” she bit out as she whirled around to face him. “We barely know each other.”
Patience shook her head. How could she make Julian understand how painful the evening had been for her—how inadequate she felt, even now when she was with him? Throughout the night, his father had quietly pointed out Una’s qualities to Patience. Virtues, the man had made clear, she lacked.
Julian and Una shared a common past, and the woman didn’t have an ounce of English blood. The woman had flirted openly with Julian and ignored Patience. Something the Crianlarich had encouraged by having Una share tales of when she and Julian were children. Patience had been the only one excluded from the stories Una had regale everyone with this evening.
Even Julian’s younger sister Muireall had heard of Julian’s and Una’s escapades before tonight. This evening’s dinner party had illustrated just how out of place and unwelcome Patience was at Crianlarich Castle. Worst of all, it made her believe the old adage of marrying in haste only to repent at leisure was true in their case. They barely knew anything about each other.
“We have the rest of our lives to learn about each other, mo ghràdh,” he said with quiet reassurance.
“But she already knows all about you. She knows your past. I don’t. Una Bensmore knows what makes you happy. I saw that tonight when you laughed at almost everything she said,” Patience said as her voice quavered. “I understand now what your father meant when he said I’m unworthy to bear the MacTavish name.”
“Unworthy—I do no’ give a damn what my father says,” Julian snarled as he closed the distance between. His large hands tenderly cupped her face. “You are more than worthy of bearing my name, Patience. You have Stewart blood in you, and do no’ forget that. But the only thing that really matters it that you make me happy simply by the fact that you chose me.”
Patience was abruptly jerked back into the present by the quiet knock on the bedroom door. Maggie, her maid, entered the room when Patience called out for the servant to enter. Patience forced a smile to her lips, and gestured toward the tray.
“I’m done with breakfast, Maggie.”
“Yes, my lady.” The maid picked the tray then turned toward her. “Shall I come back to help you dress, Lady Patience?”
“No, I can manage. Thank you,” Patience said in a distracted voice.
She barely heard the maid leave the room. All she could see in her mind’s eye was Una staring up at her with a triumphant expression on her face. Until this moment, Patience had not realized how insecure her father-in-law’s vicious insinuations had made her feel about her marriage. Inwardly, she’d told herself to dismiss the man’s cruel words. She’d worked hard to forget the innuendos the laird had levied in her direction. She found it hard to believe the man she loved had married her simply to spite Fergus and defy the laird’s demand that Julian make Una Bensmore the next lady of Crianlarich Castle. But it was now clear how much damage the man’s words had done. The Crianlarich had cultivated doubt in her where her husband was concerned.
“You’re worried about nothing, Patience MacTavish,” she said to an empty room.
“Julian told you the woman was nothing more than a friend.” An insidious voice in her head reminded her that Julian had made no mention of a meeting with Una.
“Of course he wouldn’t,” Patience declared in the silence. “He knows how much it would upset you. And the last thing the man wants is another argument like the one you had at Crianlarich Castle.”
“Yes, but what about his appointment with Lord Mayberry? He did look somewhat guilty when you questioned him, don’t you think?” the voice in the back of her head replied.
“Now you’re being ridiculous,” she snapped as she sat down at the dressing table and glared at her reflection. “When Julian comes home, you’ll simply ask him why Una had met him at their front door and why he’d gone with her in the cab.”
A short while later she was seated at her secretaire working on her correspondence. As she worked her way through the stack of letters and invitations, she saw one from Louisa. Eagerly, she opened her sister’s letter and read the short note. It was an invitation for them to join the family at Westbrook Farms at the end of the week for a family celebration of Constance’s and Lucien’s engagement.
Julian and she always enjoyed the Rockwood family gatherings, and in a brief note, she accepted her youngest sister’s invitation. Finished with her correspondence, she decided the spring weather was lovely enough to spend the afternoon reading in the park.
Book in hand, she made her way to Hyde Park. A number of acquaintances were enjoying the spring day like her, which were pleasant interruptions to her reading. It was late in the afternoon when she decided to return home. She closed her book and looked up to see Lord Mayberry heading her way.
With a smile, she rose from her bench and walked along the park’s graveled path toward the elderly gentleman. As they reached each other, he bowed in her direction.
“Good afternoon, Lady Patience,” he said with a jovial smile. “I see I’m not the only one enjoying the late afternoon warmth of this delightful spring day.”
“It is lovely out isn’t it,” she said with a laugh. “I’m certain you’re happy to be outdoors after a long day of parliamentary matters.”
“Indeed. It has been a most contentious day.” Mayberry winced as if remembering something unpleasant.
“Well, I do hope Julian wasn’t one of the more argumentative moments of your day. My husband can be quite passionate about things that are important to him.”
“MacTavish? Was I supposed to meet with your husband today, Lady Patience? I know we met this past Thursday to discuss the land value tax, but I don’t believe we had an appointment for today.” Mayberry’s startled reply made her heart slam into her chest with fear.
Julian had met with Lord Mayberry last week. Two days before he’d returned home to her. He’d lied to her. He’d lied about meeting with Lord Mayberry today, and he’d said nothing about returning to town on Thursday. Of course, he’d never said he’d arrived on Saturday either. She’d simply assumed he’d returned from Crianlarich that afternoon and met her at Marlborough House for the royal couple’s annual ball. But he’d not bothered to mention it to her either.
Why would he lie? The memory of Julian climbing into Una’s hackney cab had never been far out of her thoughts since this morning. Now Lord Mayberry’s words had renewed the fears she’d managed to dismiss this morning. Her gaze met the elderly gentleman’s puzzled gaze and she realized she’d been silent far too long.
“I must have misunderstood Julian. I thought he’d said something about meeting with you today,” she said quietly as her throat threatened to swell shut.
“I don’t recall our discussing the need for another meeting when we met last Thursday, or was it Friday?” the man mused with a frown, which suddenly vanished to reflect confidence. “No, it was Thursday as it was the afternoon I met with the Her Majesty’s cabinet.”
“Perhaps he meant to simply come by your office to make another appointment,” she said quietly. Lord Mayberry’s conviction that he’d met with Julian on Thursday confused and alarmed her. It also heightened her fears about Julian climbing into Una’s hackney cab this morning.
“Are you on your way home?” Lord Mayberry asked.
“Yes, Julian and I are to have dinner with the Dumbartons this evening.”
“Twilight will be upon us shortly, perhaps I should walk you home,” Lord Mayberry said with a note of concern in his voice. “I would hate for something untoward to happen to you.”
“Oh no, that’s quite all right, our house is only a few minutes away,” Patience said quickly. The prospect of having polite conversation with anyone at the moment made her head ache. She forced smile. “But thank you all the same.”
“All right then. If you’re certain,” the man said with a small frown. Patience patted his arm in a reassuring manner.
“I promise you, I shall be fine.”
Her response made the concern on his face ease somewhat, and with a smile, he squeezed her hand. The man was about the age her own father would have been if he were alive, and Lord Mayberry’s fatherly manner was endearing.
“Very well,” he said. “Tell MacTavish that I look forward to seeing him soon.”
“I shall do that,” she said with a nod as she turned away and headed for home.
With each step she took, she tried hard to dismiss the thought that Julian had lied to her about his meeting with Lord Mayberry. But the man’s certainty that he and Julian had met on Thursday and she’d not seen Julian until Saturday evening made doubt flare inside her. Where had he been all that time? The small voice in the back of head whispered a reminder about this morning. A moment later, image of Julian stepping into a small hackney cab with Una filled her head. She bit down on her lower lip as she quickly closed the door on the pernicious voice.
There had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation to everything. She simply needed to trust Julian. The idea was good in principle, but her emotions still made it difficult to keep her mind from running amok with the worst of all possibilities. Patience arrived home eager to have Julian set her mind at ease. Their butler, Hobbs, met her at the door, as if he’d been expecting her.
“Has Mr. MacTavish returned?” She removed her hat and glanced at the man.
“No, my lady,” the butler said with a shake of his head. “But a letter arrived for you a short time ago, and it appears to be Mr. MacTavish’s handwriting. I placed it on your secretaire.”
“Thank you, Hobbs.”
Heart pounding wildly in her chest, Patience hurried into the small salon and retrieved the letter. The parchment crackled softly as she pulled the note out of the envelope.
Forgive me, mo leannan, but my father’s business has run longer than I expected. I shall not be home in time to accompany you to the Dumbartons party. Go without me, and I will see you when you return. I miss you mo ghràdh. I will be home as soon as possible.
Your loving husband,
The paper crackled as her fingers crumpled the note. The sudden image of Una Bensmore sent a wave of fear crashing over her. The invisible force dragged her downward until she was certain she was drowning. Was she losing Julian? She swiftly crushed the thought.
Julian loved her. He’d said so numerous times over the past few days. Patience smoothed out Julian’s note to read it again. None of the words had changed. There had to be an explanation, and only Julian could answer her questions. Suddenly, the idea of going out for the evening was far from palatable.
She wrote a quick note to the Dumbartons that she was unwell and that Julian had refused to leave her side. The thought was laughable when he was supposedly attending to his father’s business affairs. The fact that she was questioning even his note made her chest tighten. The Crianlarich would be pleased to know how much doubt his words had instilled in her.
Mrs. Smathers prepared a roast chicken for her dinner, but she was too heartsick to eat. On the fireplace mantle, the clock chimed one hour after another, until she was growing frantic with worry. At ten o’clock, another note from Julian arrived. This one stated the meeting he was in was at a critical stage and would run into the early morning hours. When he finished he would sleep at the club as he didn’t wish to disturb her by coming in so late. Although she was relieved he wasn’t lying in a gutter somewhere, the victim of thieves, she found herself questioning every word in the note. Was he lying to her?
Eyes closed to hold back her tears, she didn’t want to believe all the horrible thoughts racing to confront her. All she could think about was the memory of Una’s smug expression as she’d looked up at Patience from the cab this morning.
Lethargically, Patience slipped into the cold, lonely bed. The tears she’d been holding back all day began to flow, and she sobbed herself to sleep. It was a fitful sleep, and she woke up several times during the night until she finally rose at the first light of dawn. When Maggie arrived with her breakfast, surprise filled her expression.
“You’re up bright and early, my lady.”
“I didn’t sleep well,” she said quietly as she picked up the newspaper off the breakfast tray.
“He’ll be home soon, my lady. I’m sure of it.”
“Thank you Maggie.” She dismissed the maid with a small smile.
Patience poured herself a cup of tea then pushed aside the plate of eggs and bacon Maggie had brought up to her. She had no appetite at all. The society pages rustled in her hands as she skimmed the gossip columns. Reading the columns was a vice, but it usually afforded her a laugh at the ridiculous antics of people. As she read the column, a small paragraph caught her eye, and she stiffened.
A certain Scotsman was seen in the company of a beautiful woman not his wife or sister on Maple Street looking at houses. Has the man decided to take a mistress? We wonder what Lady P would say?
For a moment, Patience remained frozen in her seat as the newsprint fell from her fingers. He was looking for a house with Una. And she was certain it was Una. It had to be. Bile rose in her throat. Men did not look at houses unless they were with a wife—or mistress. “Don’t be ridiculous, Patience MacTavish. You know quite well how gossip can change the most innocent of events into something far more ugly,” she muttered as she rose to her feet and proceeded to dress for the day.
Patience spent most of the lethargically going about her daily routine. It kept her occupied until later in the afternoon when she was in the salon. She was hopelessly attempting to repair the needlepoint, when she heard voices at the front door. Setting aside her botched embroidery, she rose to her feet as Hobbs announced Una Bensmore. Patience barely had time to recover from her amazement as the woman sailed into the room. Hands clasped in front of her, Patience met the woman’s calculating gaze.
“Good afternoon, Miss Bensmore,” Patience greeted the woman politely.
“I’m here to see Julian,” the woman said in a musical brogue which was as beautiful as her face.
“I’m sorry, but he’s not here at the moment,” Patience said with a forced a smile.
“Would you like to leave a message?”
“No, it can wait,” Una said as she stared at Patience with a calculated expression on her face. “You were surprised to see me yesterday morning.”
The direct confrontation made Patience flinch, but she managed to maintain her composure. With a shrug she frowned as if confused by the woman’s statement.
“You’re a friend of Julian’s. Why would I be surprised?”
“This is true, but I would have thought this morning’s society page would have explained why I was with Julian yesterday.”
Panic careened through Patience. Was the woman actually confirming the gossip? Had Julian really taken Una house hunting yesterday? If that was true there was only one conclusion she could draw from the knowledge. She immediately rejected the idea. Julian wouldn’t take a mistress. Desperately she fought back the growing fear inside her and struggled not to let the other woman see it.
“My husband is a thoughtful man, and always willing to help his friends. I hope you manage to find something to your liking.”
“Aye, I did, but then Julian is, as you say, a thoughtful mon, but I think you already no Julian and I are much more than friends.” The woman’s sly expression made Patience swallow hard as fear snaked through her. “Do you no’ wonder why he came back to town early without telling you or and why he didn’t come home to you last night?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she lied. “Julian sent me a note saying he’d been detained on business.”
“As you kno’ we were childhood sweethearts. The Crianlarich and I believed Julian would marry me, but he did no’,” Una said as loathing twisted her lovely features.
“He married an Englishwoman. No’ a Scotswoman.”
“I might have English blood, but I have Stewart blood too. Royal blood,” Patience bit out with fierce pride. “And I didn’t steal Julian away from anyone.”
Patience shook her head as she remembered Julian’s whirlwind courtship. She had come to accept the fact that every man who’d ever courted her had eventually left without making an offer. The last thing she’d expected when she’d been perfectly happy sitting on the shelf had been a romance with a Scotsman whose voice was sin itself and had kisses that made her melt. But it also pointed out once again how little she knew of her husband.
“Does no’ matter. I’ve stolen him away from you. Tis my bed he sleeps in now,” Una said with a smile that reminded Patience of a beautiful rose full of thorns dipped in poison.
“Why should I believe you?” Patience said with look of what she hoped conveyed annoyed disbelief. The woman had to be lying. Julian would never betray her.
“Because I can prove Julian was in my bed.” The confidence in the woman’s voice sent a shiver of fear through Patience.
“And how do you propose to do that?” she scoffed.
“Because I know about his birthmark.” Una’s words sent ice sluicing through Patience’s veins.
“Birthmark?” she whispered as the image of the birthmark on Julian’s left buttock flitted through her head.
“Aye,” Una said with a malicious smile. “Tis a reddish mark that looks like a bird in flight.”
It was as if the woman had ripped Patience’s heart out of her chest. Only a woman who’d shared Julian’s bed would know about his birthmark. In shock, Patience jumped slightly as the other woman extended her hand.
“I also have his plaid brooch. I thought you might need further proof that I have convinced Julian we belong together.”
“His brooch?” Patience said hoarsely as her disorientation forced her to grasp the back of the chair at her side. Was the woman actually referring to the brooch his mother had given him?
“Aye, he left it last night, when…”
“When he spent the night with you,” Patience choked out despite the knot threatening to close her throat shut.
The woman’s mouth slowly curved in a smug, satisfied smile as she pulled something from her purse. She extended her hand and offered the large, round pin to Patience. Her hand shook as she reached for the silver piece of jewelry bearing the familiar crest of the MacTavish clan. Julian’s mother had given him the brooch just before she’d died. He’d only been seven at the time, and he cherished the large pin, always wearing it on his shoulder whether he was wearing his fly plaid or not. It was not something he would easily lose.
As her fingers brushed against the other woman’s, Patience sucked in a sharp breath at the image that flashed in front of her eyes. Una holding a baby. A split second later, the vision changed to the familiar images of spinning carriage wheels and the out of control blaze that surrounded her.
The chaotic imagery lasted only a few seconds, but it made Patience even more unsteady on her feet. She swayed slightly, and her fingers dug into the chair’s cushion. Her gaze met the woman’s startled expression.
“You have the an dara sealladh,” the woman breathed, her voice filled with awe before an uneasy look swept across her face.
“Leave, and don’t ever come back here again,” Patience said in a cold, flat voice.
“If you do, I’ll have the magistrate order your arrest for threatening me.”
“You would no’ dare,” Una said with a swaggering look of contempt. “Julian will no’ let you.”
“Is that a challenge?” Patience said as a sudden rage swept through her. Steadied by an anger unlike any she’d ever known, she stepped toward the other woman keeping her voice low and intimidating. “If there’s one thing a Rockwood never refuses, it’s a challenge. Now leave.”
Fear crossed Una’s face as Patience pointed toward the library door. With an abrupt nod, the other woman headed toward the door. As she reached the doorway, Una looked over her shoulder with a sneer curling her lips.
“And you should remember this, my lady. If there’s one thing I can give Julian that you can no’, tis an heir.”
Patience drew in a sharp breath as the image of Una and her child filled head again. The moment the woman was gone, Patience staggered to the couch to collapse into it with a soft sob. The pain ripping through her was almost unbearable. How could Julian have said he loved her then betray her in such a deplorable manner?
No, how could she believe Una? Julian had said he loved her just yesterday morning. How could he be so loving with her only to enter another woman’s bed? She trembled as she remembered the passion and tenderness of their lovemaking over the past several days since his return from Scotland. The man had barely allowed her to leave his sight. Had those moments been nothing but a dream—a drama played out by him and for what purpose? None of it made sense, and yet all the pieces connected to form a picture of betrayal.
Confused, hurt, and desperate not to believe Una’s cruel words, Patience stared down at Julian’s brooch as tears slid down her cheeks. The disappearance of his brooch might have been easy to dismiss. It could have fallen off in the cab. Una could have found it and Julian would be none the wiser. But the most damning evidence of all was Una’s knowledge about Julian’s birthmark. How else could she have known about it unless she’d seen Julian undressed?
The knowledge taunted Patience with a horrifying intensity that threatened to bring her to her knees. She shook her head. No, she wouldn’t allow that to happen. She was a Rockwood. Slowly, she wiped the tears off her face and stood up.
Patience listlessly walked around the room trying to reject the evidence Una had shared. She drew in a sharp breath at the memory of her vision. The woman either had a child or was with child. She was certain of it. Was it Julian’s?
The fact that she and Julian were childless was a terrible source of pain to them both. Had he betrayed her because he wanted a son? Although he’d consistently brushed aside his need for an heir, she found it hard to believe he wasn’t disappointed she’d failed to have a child. Nausea gripped her insides. His lie about his appointment with Mayberry and his failure to tell her that he’d returned to town early, yet hadn’t come home, was damming enough. She sent up a fervent prayer that somehow Julian would have a rational explanation for everything.
She had no idea how long she’d been standing at the window attempting to sort things out when she jumped at the sound of Julian’s voice in the hallway. Patience froze at the window as a sense of impending doom made her mouth go dry. She loved him so much, and yet she knew she would never be able to live with him if he really had betrayed her. But she refused to find him guilty without hearing what he had to say. She could only hope his explanation would destroy the doubt stirred to life by his father’s cruel insinuations, Una’s claims of Julian’s infidelity, and the lies her husband had told.