The distance to the study gave her more time to compose herself. She was ready for battle when she entered the room and found him seated on a chair near the window reading a book. His casual appearance only fueled her anger. Damned man. He could do as he please. He had already made himself at home here – but this was her home too and she was not about to let him forget it.
“My Lord, can you tear yourself away from your reading and allow me a few moments of your time?” Her tone was harsh and his surprised expression told her he really didn’t have any idea what was coming next.
He placed the book on the desk and walked toward her. She watched him take in her appearance from the top of her head trailing down over her features to rest just above her neckline. A lazy, sensual smile rested on his lips.
“My time is all yours, my Lady. Did you rest well?”
His hand reached towards her hair, but she pushed it away. She couldn’t believe he’d missed the anger in her eyes. Did he really think she’d come to enjoy his company? The arrogance.
“I am displeased, my Lord, with your presumptions earlier today. I’m here to inform you we are not yet wed, and until such time, decisions concerning events at this castle and matters of security shall be conducted in consultation with me.”
He blinked at her. His expression grew serious sending flutters across her belly.
“I do not wish to displease you, Lady Chattan. I intended to speak with you about the guests, but you see, I was tired from last night’s…adventure and as it was, I fell asleep before the opportunity presented itself.”
She couldn’t think of a retort quickly enough before he continued.
“On the second issue concerning security, I placed a man in your stairwell and I will continue to do so until the time comes when your husband is in your bed to prevent you from leaving it.”
She gasped. He was too bold. James stood mere inches from her, forcing her to look straight up into his face. Her heart pummeled.
“My Lord, do not make any further presumptions on my part. ‘Tis not my wish to have you in my bed at all. And given the choice I’ll take the man on the stairs.”
She seethed. She glared at him and he glared right back.
“But your lover can come and go into your room as he pleases, is that it? Tell me, is that how you usually met? By secret passageway?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do not play innocent with me Lady Chattan,” he warned. “You need to understand though, while you are still betrothed to me, you will not conduct yourself in such a manner again. Once our troth is broken you may do as you wish. It’s no wonder your Uncle was so anxious to be rid of you.”
Her mouth fell open. She searched his narrowed eyes, oh dear God he believed what he said. Gawain? Her lover? After a terrifying night spent pondering her fate, she would have never suspected this further abuse.
“My Lord, you are mistaken,” she gritted. “I will only defend myself on this matter once and you may take from it what you choose. I was unwillingly removed from my home last night and detained against my will. I only later learned Gawain was involved. We are not, nor have we ever been lovers. It appears my judgment of late is sorely lacking on many accounts.”
Aileana trembled. She’d never been treated with such disrespect in her life.
“Your judgment does not concern me. Only your conduct and as much as I would like to believe you, I cannot.” James crossed his arms over his chest. “You claim you and Gawain were not lovers, yet you were crying the day I revealed Iain’s letter. You admitted you expected him to be your husband and I later saw him in the garden, no doubt waiting for your signal to steal away for a tryst.”
“You saw Gawain in the garden? When?”
James shook his head. “Oh you play the game well, Lady. When I came to collect you. He watched you from the hedge. Do not try to tell me you didn’t know he was there.”
“I did not.” Was Gawain trying to capture her even then?
“And I don’t believe you. It is of little matter however, as I will leave here on the morrow and gain the king’s blessing to break this contract. Without your Uncle available to concede, it is only proper. Once all the particulars are explained, I’m certain he will assist in wiping this blemish clean.”
That’s what she was, a blemish? She bowed her head. How much further abuse would he dish out this day? She didn’t deserve it. James MacIntosh may have all the power in this situation, but she was not about to lie down and take it. If no one else would stand up for her, she’d damn well stand up for herself.
“Oh the King will assist will he? Of course he will. You may give him my regards from my dead father while you’re at it. It appears that man will be forever responsible for my unhappiness.”
“What did you say?” James cupped her face with his strong hand.
“Nothing that matters to you my Lord.” She wrapped her small hands around his forearm to shove him off but he would not budge. She should be afraid, instead she wanted to drive a dagger in his gullet.
“You mentioned you father and I will hear your meaning. Now.”
“Surely you know of my father’s involvement with your precious king?” She spat.
“I confess I do not. Your father was a good friend to my family and I was told he died while travelling to London.”
“Of course that’s what you heard. Especially if he had any part in the falsehood.”
“You border on treason with those words.”
“I care not for treason! I’ve lost a beloved parent to that man’s cause and I will not be silenced for it!”
His grip on her face tightened. “I don’t believe one word that falls from your lips. You have the gall to claim King James is responsible for your father’s death. Lady, you go too far.”
“I don’t care what you believe!” Aileana twisted enough to break free from his grasp. Her hands fisted at her sides and her chest heaved.
James’s eyes darted from her face to her bosom and back up. “But you will care. Do not think for a second your crimes against me will go unpunished. I regret the feast tonight, but we will both suffer through it and I will leave here tomorrow for Linlithgow. It is unlikely you will see me again.”
He could go and she would be happily rid of the beast. She tilted her chin up. “You may go with my good riddance, but know that I am no liar. My father was sent to England for surety of King James’s ransom. How much was it again? 40,000 merks?” Now that she was out of his grasp, she couldn’t resist making her point. “It seems to me the palace at Linlithgow becomes more lavish by the second. Perhaps the king never intended for my father and the others who were sent away from their families to ever come home.”
“Enough! I’ll hear no more of these villainous words from you.”
It was good to see him rattled for a change. “And as for the crimes against you? I have been the victim here. Twice. Yet by your account I am faithless and a treasonous liar. However do I manage it?”
“Do not mock me, ” he warned.
He stepped toe to toe with her, so close their bodies almost touched. Her breath came in short gasps. Their faces were so close she could feel his breath as he fired his hateful words at her. Hers were no better, but at least they were the truth. He was so blinded by his devotion to his king, he couldn’t see anything else.
She had never been so incensed by anyone in her life. She couldn’t fathom what her future held with him bearing down on her. She needed to get away from him and clear her head. As she turned to leave, James caught her by the arm.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
“To see to the dinner preparations.”
James turned her to face him, holding her arms in his powerful hands and stared intently into her eyes. “You’ll go nowhere without me this day.”
“I’ll go where I choose, my Lord, and with whom. You can rest assured, it will not be with you.”
“Oh no? We’ll see about that. You’ll do what I want while I’m under this roof and responsible for you.”
He held her arms too tight. The distance between them had disappeared again and she could hardly breathe.
“Tell me, my Lord. What do you want?” She dared ask.
James didn’t answer with words. His hand grasped the back of her head and drew her forward to capture her lips.