Illicit Union_Sanctuary, page 10
As he damped down the flames, Margaret’s voice came softly, “Good, you’re finally coming to bed. Today’s freeze must have worn you out.”
“Twas nae so chill.” Enlightened Gillie sitting back down.
“Oh?” She turned over, “I prayed for fair weather for warmer days.”
“Then it’s best ye stop. A wee bit of freeze would keep the ground solid.”
“I’ll hasten to confess my error.” And she smiled her horrible, heart melting smile. Gillie had to turn away even as she continued, “I loathe mud.”
“Who doesn’t?” Returned Gillie, but upon reconsideration amended, “Except ditch diggers and church sextons. And swine, they love mud.”
She laughed then bade, “Come on to bed now. You need your rest ploughing through the mud will make for a long day.”
“Nay, I’ll stay up and tend the fire. Get ye some rest. Tomorrow will be a taxing day for yourself.” Before she could mount a debate, he stated, “Ye dinnae rest last night. I think ye will be more comfortable nae squeezed up against the wall.”
“But you need to sleep too.”
“And I did. I slept while ye kept the fire. Tis my turn now.” He crossed the ankles of his out-stretched legs in a sign of immobility.
“But should we not combine the covers as before?”
“Nae tis warmer tonight, and we have peat. Go to sleep lady. I may doze, but come dawn I’m off to bring the horses. Pray God we still have horses.”
With her brows furrowed, she asked, “And if someone has taken the horses?”
“Then I’ll walk my sorry arse all the way to The Cock and Goose where I will borrow, buy, or steal a horse for to carry you on to Black Bannoch.”
A surprising silence descended upon the room, but eventually she spoke, “MacGillivray, you are really good about having a fall back plan. This is a skill needed in the Royal household, especially during the summer progress.”
With a snort, but without a glance in her direction, Gillie drawled, “What? Travel the length and breadth of England at the height of summer through lovely meadows and shady forests, travelling from one great feast to another at some English laird’s expense? Nae, I’d be bored. The road has to be iced over, buried beneath snow, or a trail of knee-deep muck for me to take an interest.”
She giggled and on this high note, he seriously bade, “Good night Lady Margaret. Get ye some rest. Else tomorrow will be filled with regret.”
The silence pressed down on Margaret. She knew he was simply saying ‘Leave me be.’ Just as his actions said, ‘Sleeping with you tonight is unnecessary, imprudent, and improper. How could she gainsay him? What had she been thinking?
The answer to this not so rhetorical question kept her awake. She had been thinking of laying in the shelter of his arms while his heart thumped into her ear. Likewise the night noises of a crackling fire and a light wind rattling the shutter scarcely compared to their delightful pillow talk. The term drove home another motive of MacGillivray’s: to avoid temptation. Again she should have been the one . . . what had she become?
Her eyes caught the motion of MacGillivray leaning forward to warm his hands. Next he would rub his arms as if to transfer some of the warmth, then tuck his arms – hands and all – into his sash. Just as she envisioned, he ended up encased in his plaid like a turtle in its shell. How she would miss him tonight
Within the hollow sorrow deepened. Would she ever again lie in the arms of . . . anyone? There would be other nights, other days, certainly other days with MacGillivray. From all she heard he visited Black Bannoch frequently. Naturally, The MacGillivray - the friendly neighborhood ally – never cuddled up with the house guests of Laird and Lady McBain. Or maybe he did. Trysts played out in English country houses which would never be tolerated at court, even King James’ court.
Actually this aspect of life at court repulsed Margaret. In general, living at court was tedious. Devious politics, tight schedules, and elaborate protocols became burdensome routine. She missed the respect and the camaraderie and ultimately, the feeling her life had meaning beyond being a spinster sister. What was worse than a spinster sister? A disgraced impoverished spinster sister.
Choking on sobs, she pressed her face into covers to soak up her tears. If grieving herself sick were not bad enough, now she ached for MacGillivray’s soothing arms. Only he would cajole away her blue mood by spouting a witticism or offering some consoling observation. Her sorely taxed heart would lift once he gathered her close, but those days were gone as of yesterday. How could last night be the last time?
Why should last night be the last time? Why not have one more night of feeling safe and protected, comforted and hopeful? For her, the regret centered on letting this opportunity pass? Not only to lie in his arms, but sample his kisses and more? Already she regretted ignoring his obvious attraction in the lean-to. Had she bypassed her sole chance to explore relations with someone other than with her husband? Dear God, who would ever want her once the baby became common knowledge?
A pleasant dream of nuzzling velvet skin shattered with the echo of sob. MacGillivray opened not one eye, but listened intently. Hearing nothing but a shift in the fire, he eased back into unconsciousness only to jolt fully awake when a shuddering breath led to another sob. Oh God no, she was weeping again. And why? Dear God why?
They had survived unscathed, even ate well in warmth. Tomorrow, the next at the most, she would be in Black Bannoch. Aw, nerves. When her muffled sobs grew into full-blown weeping. Gillie implored, “Please, dinnae cry tonight. The worst is over and we’ll be drinking whiskey at The Cock and Goose by noon tomorrow.” Under his breath he added, “God willing.”
She cried so hard her shoulders shook.
He amended, “Or at least I’ll be drinking just a wee shot or so . . . to fortify myself for the rest of the trip.”
Between gasps she quivered, “To . . . better stand my company?”
Disbelieving his ears, Gillie swung about to confront her, “Yer company? I’ve said naught about yer manners or any other complaint.”
“You are oh so amiable, I know you count the time you spend with me as the ‘worst’ and cannot wait to celebrate the end of it.”
Laughing, he growled, “Nae nae, nothing like that. The time with you passed nicely,” He shrugged, “But I’ve nae had a drop of whiskey since the day before I met ye. I’ll be glad to take sip. In fact today, or should I say yesterday, would have be nigh onto perfect if there had been more dressing, and ye had also been waiting with a few drams of whiskey.”
Numbly she confirmed, “You enjoyed the time you spent with me?”
“Aye, after climbing up a mountain on my belly, this croft was like heaven. I ken so because there was nae whiskey.” Good, she laughed. A sad wee chuckle, but it was a beginning, or so Gillie thought. A few hours lay between here and daylight, so he bid, “Ye are weary and overburdened with yer worries. A bit of rest will do ye good.”
And a quiet voice chirped, “Will you not come to bed?”
Enraged at having to speak of such matters, Gillie barked, “That is why yer crying and moaning? Cause I dinnae lay down with ye?” Giving her his back, he snapped, “God’s faith, lady, ye are safer with me here.”
With a hopeful note she inquired, “Because you are between me and the door?”
How could she be so dense? Had she really been at court some three years? But then she was in the Princess’ household. His theory crumbled in face of her statement: “Or do you fear your own impulses?”
His finger shot out accusing, “Ye should fear . . . for yerself, lady. A man can only be pushed so far.”
Tears burst forth as she rejoined, “Did I push you? Oh dear God, I knew better.”
Unwilling to let her bear the blame, he assured, “Well, twas nae yer fault . . . or mine. But rather a necessary necessity.” Embarrassed by his failing English, Gillie concluded, “But nae longer necess. . . needed.”
No air could Gillie find. He must have stood for now he looked down on her. She turned on her back to gaze steadily into his eyes. “I want to lie with you, in your arms.”
His knees folded. She slid over to where he knelt and took his hands. “Please?”
Battling for words, Gillie shook his head. “Nae! Ye are nae thinking of what ye say. Ye dinnae ken what torture I endure lying there. Do ye nae ken how ye affected me . . . in the lean-to? Dinnae ye lie to me, and dinnae ye lie to yerself. I cannae promise ye another night of restraint.”
His warning generated no apparent concern, but her brows knitted and her mouth folded shut, so Gillie dissembled, “I mean nae insult. I ken ye meant only I should lie down with ye, but nae in the Biblical sense.”
She blurted, “But I do mean just that.” Only her increased grip on his hands kept Farquhar MacGillivray upright.
For a passing moment, Margaret feared MacGillivray might faint. Well, he demanded the truth. His barb about lying to him and herself had struck home. Throughout her life, Margaret had aspired to honesty. She prided herself on being forthright and forthcoming, unlike Alfreda and Willie who loved a lie all the more for being creative. But by God’s gracious love, she would face the truth herself. So MacGillivray got the truth, flat out.
The tremble in his hands revealed her confession had caught the ever-ready MacGillivray off guard. She scrutinized his countenance for some indicator of his attitude and came up with stunned.
His grip overwhelmed hers, and he brought her hands to his lips. Light but lingering his lips fluttered on each in turn. His sooty lashes lowered to conceal his liquid eyes. Finally he spoke, “Margaret, I ken ye intended a great compliment, but think ye, lady, what could come of this?”
Laying her hands upon the mound of her stomach, she reminded, “Nothing that hasn’t already come to pass.”
“Nae, Margaret, there is more involved in mating than the making of bairns. There’s what passes between a man and woman. Everything changes afterwards, everything between them certainly. Ye dinnae want us to be awkward and . . . ashamed.”
“I’m awkward and ashamed anyway.” Sighed Margaret shielding her eyes with the back of her hand. With all her might, she choked down sobs.
He shook her declaring, “Nae, ye’ve nae cause to be ashamed. If ye are widowed, yer widowed. No shame in that, unless ye killed him yerself.”
She could see he was trying to jolly her around and more seriously remind her of her husband. But her heart melted when he said, “And Margaret ye are better than this. Ye can nae crawl into another man’s bed, but weeks – it has been a matter of weeks since he died, right? – mere weeks after ye buried yer man.” He even made her excuses for her, “Yer just lonely and sad, needing comfort as anyone would.”
“Yes, I suppose so, but more, I don’t want to regret passing up my last chance to live as a whole woman.”
His hand drummed on her belly, “Nonsense, this babe is nae the end for ye. Many a widow remarries.”
“Really? And what of ladies who have baby without benefit of clergy?”
“Their lives go on too.”
“On to what? Poverty? Charity? Loveless marriages to the lowliest men to disguise their disgrace?”
“Nae, Alfreda will nae abandon ye. Ye ken her, she loves a project.”
The poor woman shuddered showing Gillie the error of his ways. Before he could take corrective measures, Margaret grimly countered, “Yes. However, I’ll have none of the matches and schemes she suggests for the sake of the baby I carry. Doubtless, I’ll end up at Ammavale. The Chilliam sister never discussed - invited among guests only when they need four for cards.”
Sucking in his breath, Gillie braced himself for more tears but she surprised him by saying, “Not a bad fate, but lonely.” She grabbed his arms entreating, “Please don’t waste this night. I may never see another of its like, and indeed have not hereto before.”
‘Hereto before’ what was she saying? Why else did her belly stretch? Struck by a dreadful conclusion, Gillie eased up upon the bed to sit leaning against the headboard. He pulled her to rest against his chest to better comfort her if his question proved painful. “Tell me, dear lady, are ye giving out yer widowed so as to cover for some filthy beast who forced himself upon ye?”
Undaunted, she persisted, “We were wed before he first . . .” Pressing closer she sheltered in his embrace, “But one can be forced, coerced in ways other than violence. Believe me please, I never desired the marriage or the man.”
What could he say? The Chilliam women, damn their wiles, had a way of skirting the civilities and foregoing polite ritual exchanges. There were no casual flirtations and light hearted chatter to shield one’s true feelings. Always Margaret forced him into profound and emotional discourses, as had her sister, Alfreda, who once put him smack in the middle of her marital woes. All in all, her reluctant and lackluster marriage explained her willingness to put the past behind her.
Plus her sad take on her future had the ring of truth. High born ladies who went astray were frequently buried alive at the country seat of great families, whether in Scotland or in England. And likely, they were not hot items on the marriage market. Those men who wed these women did so for profit. They offered little to their unwanted and unwelcome stepchild, and often permitted their wives little contact with the bastard thereafter.
Her plea, “MacGillivray, say something,” broke in on his reverie bringing him back to question of what to say. What was there to say with her hand entwined in his hair coaxing his lips down, down to where hers awaited. What harm in a kiss? If it warmed her heart in years to come? What harm a romance along the way to Black Bannoch? Surely this kiss would be a treasure in his life, recalled and reexamined time and again until his memory faded to naught.
His mouth possessed her upon first contact. Any thought of controlled passion vanished altogether. Margaret could only respond to his eager hunger. His probing tongue melded with hers. The sensation only confirmed Margaret’s suspicion she had never known passion at all. Perhaps her husband never had either.
How her shoulders and her breasts came to be exposed, she never knew. However the neck of her shift would not slide down over her stomach. Not that MacGillivray seemed to mind. His hands lifted each, caressing the nipples softly. Somehow, his soothing touch promised gentle indulgence. Not that her breasts absorbed the whole of his attentions, his lips slithered to and fro down her neck to her shoulders and back again.
“O lovely lady.” Each word tickled her moist skin. “Yer skin so fine stuns me.”
She tried to twist about to question his seriousness, but his lips seized hers again. The kiss led her right on around, until she sat sidesaddle on his lap.
His arm penned her to his chest as he again rested against the headboard, “If I admit I missed lying abed with you as well, will ye laugh at me?”
“No . . . I would feel better about . . .”
“Aye, I confess, I did miss ye.” He gestured toward the empty chair sitting before the smoldering fire, “Now the chair was comfortable, as far as hard back chairs go. . .”
Although the conversation seemed odd, considering she was sitting on his lap half undressed, she did feel at ease and ready to kiss again.
His lips took her breath away. When he, again, freed her mind, MacGillivray chided, “That’s the way it is. When I catch ye nae paying attention to what I say, ye get well and properly kissed.”
“O what a horrible fate,” teased Margaret turning her face up for punishment.
He obliged but briefly, “And I confess I’ve wanted to kiss ye since . . . the lean-to when I first glimpsed this dimple.” He denoted the spot with a glancing kiss.
With two fingers, he eased her neckline up to conceal her chest, “And I’ve kissed ye now so . . .
“Kissed? What do you call this?” She stared down at her low décolleté. “A kiss?”
Tugging at the thin cloth to coax it up farther, he drawled, “I believe tis called fondling. But I can nae be doing any of this.”
Finally assisting him, she covered herself, “So what happened then?”
“I lost my head.” He wagged a finger in her direction, “But I’ve found my senses again.”
“Must you?” Questioned Margaret in spontaneous dismay, “Must you regain your senses just now?”
A chuckle choked out his reply, but when he found a breath he admonished, “Magaidh, Thank God I did in time.”
For the most part, she had to concur with his opinion, but when he added, “And ye will be grateful someday,” his words galled her no end.
A change of subject seemed advisable, “Magaidh? Is that what you called me?”
“Aye, tis Scottish for Margaret. I dinnae like Margaret. The name is so stiff, and frankly it dinnae fit the woman who traveled the road from Inverness with me.”
“But the woman at Whitehall? Was she a Margaret?”
“Yes, high handed Margaret.”
So he wanted to pick a fight, did he? Not tonight. She would take him to task for that remark someday, but not tonight. “Magaidh? I think I like it.”
His arms wrapped about her, “Moireach Magaidh, Lady Margaret.”
“But not Margaret?”
“I’m hoping Lady Margaret stayed in London since the Highlands already have a goodly number of arrogant women.”
“The better to hold their own with arrogant Highlander men.”
“Without a doubt.” A kiss glanced off her cheek.
“So what did I do to you in London? Was it at Whitehall?”
He pushed her playfully, “So now ye will add insult to injury by admitting ye dinnae even remember me from last summer?”
“Oh I remember you, but I have no recall of abusing you in any way.”
“Never will I forget.”
“Well, whatever I did or said, I am right sorry, Laird MacGillivray.”