MY FAIR HIGHLANDER
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
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“Tell me you did not tell that barbarian Scot that he could “court me.”
Jemma Ramsden was a beautiful woman, even when her lips were pinched into a frown. She glared at her brother, uncaring of the fact that most of the men in England wouldn’t have dared to use the same tone with Curan Ramsden, Lord Ryppon.
Jemma didn’t appreciate the way her brother held his silence. He was brooding, deciding just how much to tell her. She had seen such before, watched her brother hold command of the border property that was his by royal decree with his iron-strong personality. Knights waited on his words, and that made her impatient.
“Well, I will not have it.”
“Then what will you have, Sister?” Curan kept his voice controlled, which doubled her frustration with him. It was not right that he could find the topic so mild when it was something that meant so much to her.
But that was a man for you. They controlled the world and didn’t quibble over the fact that women often had to bend beneath their whims.
Curan watched her, his eyes narrowing. “Your temper is misplaced, Jemma.”
“I would expect you to think so. Men do not have to suffer having their futures decided without any concern for their wishes as women do.”
Her brother’s eyes narrowed. She drew in her breath because it was a truth that she was being shrewish. She was well past the age for marriage, and many would accuse her brother of being remiss in his duty if he did not arrange a match for her. Such was being said of her father for certain.
Curan pointed at the chair behind her. There was hard authority etched into his face. She could see that his temper was being tested. She sat down, not out of fear. No, something much worse than that. Jemma did as her brother indicated because she knew that she was behaving poorly.
Like a brat.
It was harsh yet true. Guilt rained down on her without mercy, bringing to mind how many times she had staged such arguments since her father died. It was a hard thing to recall now that he was gone.
Her brother watched her sit and maintained his silence for a long moment. That was Curan’s way. He was every inch a hardened knight. The barony he held had been earned in battle, not inherited. He was not a man who allowed emotion to rule him, and that made them night and day unto each other.
“Lord Barras went to a great deal of effort to ask me for permission to court you, Jemma.”
“Your bride ran into his hands. That is not effort; it is a stroke of luck.”
Her brother’s eyes glittered with his rising temper. She should leave well enough alone, but having always spoken her mind, it seemed very difficult to begin holding her tongue.
“Barras could have kept Bridget locked behind his walls if that was his objective. He came outside to meet me because of you.”
Curan held up a single finger to silence her. “And to speak to me of possible coordinated efforts between us, yes, but an offer from the man should not raise your ire so much, Sister.”
The reprimand was swift and solid, delivered in a hard tone that made her fight off the urge to flinch. Her brother was used to being in command. His tone was such that not a single one of his men would argue with even if she often did. But that trait was not enhancing her reputation. She noticed the way his knights looked at her with disgust in their eyes. When they didn’t think she could hear them, they called her a shrew. She would like to say it did not matter to her, but it did leave tracks like claw marks down the back of her pride. Knowing that she had earned that slur against her name made her stomach twist this morning. Somehow, she’d not noticed until now, not really taken the time to recognize how often she quarreled with her brother. He was a just man.
“You are right, Brother.”
Curan grunted. “You admit it, but you make no apology.”
Her chin rose and her hands tightened on the arms of the chair as the impulse to rise took command of her.
“Remain in that chair, Jemma.”
Her brother’s voice cracked like a leather whip. She had never heard such a tone directed at her before. It shocked her into compliance, wounding the trust she had in her brother, allowing her to do anything that she wished. The guilt returned, this time thick and clogging in her throat.
“Has Bridget complained of me?” Her voice was quiet, but she needed to know if her brother’s wife was behind her sibling’s lack of tolerance.
“She has not, but I am finished having my morning meal ruined by your abrasive comments on matters concerning your future. You may thank the fact that my wife has been at this table every day for the past six months as the reason for this conversation not happening before this.”
Bridget, her new sister-in-law, had taken one look at the morning meal and turned as white as snow. No doubt her brother was on edge with concern for the wife who had told him to leave her alone in one of the very rare times Bridget raised her voice in public to her husband. Curan had slumped back down in his chair, chewing on his need to follow his bride when Jemma had begun to berate him.
Her timing could not have been worse. But hindsight was always far clearer.
“I will not speak against our father and his ways with you, Jemma. However, you will not continue as you have. You were educated well, just as my wife, and yet you spend your days doing nothing save pleasing your whims. You have refused to see Barras every time he has called upon me as though the match is beneath you; it is not.” Her brother paused, making his displeasure clear. “Well, madam, I believe a few duties will help you place some of your spirit to good use.” Curan drew in a stiff breath. “I will not force you to wed, because that was our father’s wish. Yet I will not tolerate anyone living in this castle who does nothing to help maintain it. You may have the day to decide what you prefer to do, or on the morrow I will have a list of duties given to you. Food does not appear from thin air, and you shall help make this fortress a decent place to reside.”