Mrs. Pruitt slammed the thing down on the table a time or two, peered at it, thenpursed her lips."Must 'ave been a bit o' sour wind from under the door," she grumbled.Ambrose breathed a sigh of relief."Coward," came a voice from beside him.Ambrose squawked in spite of himself, then turned to glare at Fulbert, who hadappeared next to him on the table. "Can you blame me?" he whispered in irritation."You gave the woman your word. I heard you fix the bargain with her yourself.""Damn me, but I never said when!"Mrs. Pruitt tossed her contraption into the rubbish bin, turned, and stalked from thekitchen with a curse. Ambrose watched her go with a great sigh of relief."I'll tell her you intend to woo her," Fulbert said with an unwholesome look in his eye,"and then we'll see how things progress..."Ambrose wondered if wringing Fulbert's neck would give him any peace. Then again,the man was his sister's husband—and if that wasn't enough to convince a man thatthere were just some things in the world, and out of it, that were simply beyond aman's comprehension, he didn't know what would be. He likely couldn't just up and dodamage to the man without there being hell to pay at some point in the future."I'll show myself to her in my own good time," Ambrose said firmly. "Until then, weshould concern ourselves with our next task." He leaped athletically down from thework table and took up his place again by the fire."Matchmaking," Fulbert said with a snort, coming over to draw up his own chair. "I'mbeginnin' to think it isn't a dignified occupation for a man of my stature.""Then find something else to do," Ambrose said pointedly."I would, but you'd never manage any of these marriages without my aid and thenwhere would I be?""Well—""Unraveling your disasters, that's where I'd be," Fulbert continued in a superior tone,retrieving his mug from its invisible storage place. "Now, who is it this time? The nameescapes me...""You know very well who is coming."Fulbert took a deep pull of his ale. "I've been trying to forget." He looked at Ambroseover the rim of his cup. "Go ahead. Spew out the name.""Victoria McKinnon, and do not dare disparage her.""Disparage her?" Fulbert echoed weakly. "I wouldn't dare! But, by the saints, must webe involved with
particular McKinnon wench? I remember Mistress Victoria fromyoung Gideon's wedding to that granddaughter of yours, that Megan MacLeodMcKinnon." He shivered. "As if Megan wasn't bad enough, wedding me nevvy andruinin' him for decent labor, now we've another of your descendants to be tormentedby—""Don't you talk about me wee granddaughter thusly!" a voice bellowed suddenly.Hugh McKinnon appeared, his face red, his sword grasped in his hand, the businessend pointed toward Fulbert's chest."I won't say more about Megan," Fulbert grumbled, "but that Victoria—""Do not malign her, either!" Hugh thundered. "She's a spirited gel—""Hugh, she's a bleedin' garrison captain!" Fulbert exclaimed.Hugh squirmed uncomfortably for a moment or two, then scrunched his face up in hismost determined expression. "She's... er...
Fulbert leaped to his feet, sending his chair toppling backward. He drew his swordwith a flourish. "And
say she's impossible! Spending her life trying to keep thoseflighty actors and dancers in proper form..." He snorted. "Foolishness. Damn me if Icouldn't wish for just one wench who's for a bit of bloodshed—""I'll give ye all the bloodshed ye want, ye pompous Brit!" Hugh vowed, giving Fulbert ahealthy shove.Fulbert took a firmer grip on his sword. "Whey-faced skirt-wearer.""Whey-faced," Hugh echoed. "
!"They raised their swords as if they intended to do damage with them. Ambrosecursed. He was all for a bit of proper exercise when circumstances warranted, butnow was not the time and the kitchen was not the place."Take it outside," he bellowed.Hugh hesitated in midswing; Fulbert paused before he cleaved Hugh's skull in twain.They looked at each other, shrugged, then tromped out the door with word or two of pleasant conversation between them.Soon there came the sound of a mighty battle from the back garden. Ambrose wantedto believe that would be the end of it, but he knew better. He began to count silently.He expected that he wouldn't reach a score before the kitchen door would burst open—it did at ten-and-six—and a be-curlered, hastily garbed Mrs. Pruitt would comeracing through the kitchen with her video camera at the ready—which she did,clutching her pink robe to her breast and nearly putting out an eye as she dashedacross the wooden floor. She rushed out the back door.Ambrose sighed as the sounds outside changed in tone. Bloodshed? Aye, there mightbe a bit, and not just Mrs. Pruitt tripping over garden implements.Curses and screeches mingled outside. Ambrose tipped back in his chair, waiting for what was to come. The curses ceased abruptly and the screeching became the lowmurmuring of a woman who was reviewing her videotape and finding it completelylacking the kind of paranormal activity she had intended it to capture. Ambrose wasunsurprised several minutes later when Mrs. Pruitt marched through the kitchen andcursed her equipment thoroughly as she continued on her way into the diningchamber.Hugh and Fulbert came in not far behind her, with swords sheathed, and headsshaking."Parley with her," Fulbert said to Ambrose.Hugh nodded nervously in agreement.Ambrose sighed. "I will. Soon. After this next bit of business is finished. I should havebeen preparing for that long before now, but the winter was quite pleasant in theHighlands—""It always is," Hugh agreed wistfully."And I lingered when I should have labored. Now, I've much to do and little time inwhich to do it." Ambrose took a long pull from his mug. "Fortunately, we know all weneed to about the lad up the way.""Do we?" Fulbert mused. "I'm the first to choose interesting rumor over tedious fact,but I must ask meself how much of what we know about him is true."Hugh gaped at him. "What's there to know?" he managed. "Connor MacDougal isunpleasant, impolite, and dangerous." He looked at Ambrose. "
wonder why it iswe're sending such a sweet, delicate gel as my Victoria into that lion's den.""Sweet?" Fulbert choked. "Delicate? Have ye gone mad—""Be that as it may," Ambrose interrupted firmly, " 'tis the match we're determined tomake. I daresay in the end, there will be several things we've misjudged about thepair. Well," he added, "I daresay
will not be surprised, but others will no doubt be so.In the end, all will be well. Now, for the present, we'll rely on rumor to guide us withregard to the laird up the way and I'll be about a bit of digging into what our dear Victoria is combining. We'll rendezvous here in a fortnight and make our plans.""That is ample time," Fulbert agreed.Ambrose frowned at him. "Ample time for you to remain hereabouts with Hugh andmake no trouble."Fulbert opened his mouth to argue, which forced Ambrose to produce one of hisfiercer scowls. Fulbert contented himself with muttering into his cup. Hugh lookedready to protest as well, but Ambrose cowed him with a similar look. Hugh folded hisarms over his chest and stared into the fire with a scowl of his own.Satisfied that his companions would remain where they had been instructed to,Ambrose bid them a firm goodnight, dispensed with his chair and cup, then turnedand walked out of the kitchen. He made his way through the dining chamber, throughthe entryway, and up to his own bedchamber, the one that always remained emptyeven when the rest of the inn was full and more guests wanted to stay. No one ever seemed to want to spend the night there in that bit of sixteenth-century splendor,though he couldn't understand why not.Well, whatever the reason, it gave him a place to rest and he suspected he would dowell to be well-rested for what was to come. There was still much to do, many detailsto ferret out, and many plans to be laid which would need to go undetected by theman and woman in question.