Within an hour, Jason knew all there was to know.
Which was damn little.
His cousin had been all but asleep on his feet—Dillon had been reluctant to leave Elizabeth as Tracy had not deigned to assign any protection to the laird’s wife. “I argued most fiercely, Cousin,” Dillon said as Jason shoved him down the hallway toward his own chambers. “But Mama did not agree a’tall wit’ Barbara—”
“I know,” Jason muttered. “What of the serving girl? Who gave my wife the ale?”
“Dunno.” They stopped in front of the door. “God’s Truth, Jason. I was out wit’ the boats all day. Just as I am every day. I share some ale with Elizabeth each night before supper. She was already there, the ale at her side. We spoke a bit about…about things…then we—” He looked away and swallowed. “I thought we might drink a toast to your safe return. If I hadn’t, mayhap she would have forgotten it ‘twas there—”
“The only fault lays with the coward who tried to kill her.” Jason shoved him inside his chamber. “Sleep. Thank you for looking after my wife.”
He turned to find Francis, his first in command, behind him. “I was about to send for you—”
“Yer aunt told me all when I came in the hall.” They went back towards Jason’s chambers. “I’ve already asked Johnny to look into the kitchen staff, but the trail is ice cold, Laird. And…”
When Francis paused, Jason sighed, his hand on the heavy oak door. “Aye. Elizabeth is not well-liked, there there is no small amount of suspects. But not all dislike is ill-meant.”
“’Tis not that the men dislike her,” Francis said, his face miserable. “They—she does not…well—” He shuffled his feet. “They’re unconvinced at our king’s motives. They think she brings danger with her.”
“Aye, and I’ve held my tongue. I thought Elizabeth would—” Win them over. As she had him. And the contingent of men who had been with them at the wedding and the journey home. “But I sat back too long, I let Elizabeth talk me down—she was—there was to be a child.” His voice broke—just slightly. “’Tis gone.”
“I—” Francis lifted his chin. “I see to Johnny’s investiation and put Max and Gannon at the chamber door. Yer wife will come to no more harm. We will find the fiend, Jason. You have my oath.”
It was another day before Elizabeth stirred from her deep sleep, her voice slurred as she struggled to sit up. “Husband?”
“Do not move quickly—you will be tired for days yet.” Jason braced her and piled furs behind her. “Are you hungry? Do you wish for drink?”
“No, I—” She cleared her throat, blinking. “What has happened? I was—” Her eyes cleared and there was dread in her eyes. “Jason. I—I was drinking ale with Dillon. And I felt so ill.”
He bowed his head. “Aye. The healer says…there was nightshade in your mug.”
“Night—” Elizabeth pressed a fist to her chest. “Someone wants me dead—” She closed her eyes. “That is not all, is it, husband? Do you know…you know who?”
“No, but—” He paused. He could not keep this from her, he could not lie. But to say the words— “There was…you were with…”
“Child,” she finished. “But no longer.”
In her lap, her hands fisted and she was quiet for a long moment. “I should like to…could you help me to stand up?”
“I am not sure—”
He drew back the furs and helped to rise to her feet. She swayed slightly but together, they made their way to the chairs set before the fire. He helped Elizabeth sit down there and then fetched furs to tuck around her. “Elizabeth—”
“I knew ‘twas nothing more than a dream,” she murmured. “To be free. A family. I should have told the king no.”
“I know you do not feel safe here,” Jason began, kneeling in front of her. IF she wanted to return to the king’s court until the villain was found, he could not—he was not sure he could deny her. But—
“I was always told it ‘twas a curse,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes distant, her voice flat as if he were not even in the room. “I told myself it was. But I see now I did not truly believe it until now.”
“Believe what?” Jason drew back, tilting his head. “Elizabeth—”
“I should have—the king should have told you. I should not have believed it would be different here. That I could have a life—”
“No.” She reached forward for his hand. “No, I cannot. I am cursed, just as my parents have always told me. God has cursed me for reasons I cannot fathom. And I am sure of it now. I wanted a child, and God has taken that from me—”
“A coward, a worthless scum has done that—”
“If it is not my fault, then why could I not see?” Her voice broke and a tear slid down her cheek. “I can see when the king’s man poisoned his chalice. I stopped it. I knew when the shepherd at home had broken his leg, had been stranded in the fields.”
“See?” Jason repeated.
Her eyes found his and the emptiness, the devastation nearly stole his breath. “I am cursed by God to see the future, to know things I should not. If it is not a curse, then why could I not save my own child? I had—I had a brief flash just before it all went dark, but not in time. You should—” She swallowed. “You should set me aside. Contact the king. You deserve a wife who can give you more—”
“Stop, just—” Jason rose to his feet and dragged his hand through hair, startled to find it shaking just a little. His wife was telling him—what exactly was she—
“You had a vision that the king would be poisoned and you stopped it,” Jason said, turning back to her. “You saved his life.”
“I could not help it.” She looked down at her lap, twisting her fingers in the dark furs. “My parents brought me to court under royal order—the king is seeking to make alliances between clans and all unmarried maidens—I touched his hand, and I blurted it out. I—he is my king. I could not pretend—”
“Of course not. Your parents were angry?” Jason could easily believe it of the man who had thrust his daughter away to an unknown chieftain.
“Aye. My father passed it off as a crazed mind, but the king…he discovered the man poisoning his chalice. He sent for me, and he said—he was so grateful for it. He said I should be protected.” She looked at him with a sad smile. “And he gave me you. He said I would be safe with you.”
And she hadn’t been. Damn it. He sank back to his knees. “I promise you, I will make you safe here again, Elizabeth. I will find the man who tried to take you from me, who took—” And again, there—his throat closed. He had wanted a child with her. A family. Hers was not the only dream to be crushed this day.
“I should have been able to see in time,” Elizabeth insisted. “What use is this gift if I cannot save my child—” And then her face paled. “You have an enemy. It—I understand now.”
“The night of our wedding,” Elizabeth said slowly, “I saw—I felt you be pierced by a sword.”
He remembered her sharp cry that night, the way she had fallen to the ground as if it struck. Her explanation had made little sense, but he could never have dreamed of the truth.
“Did you see who?” Jason asked.
“No, but I—” She bit her lip. “I felt your betrayal,” she murmured. “You—trusted this person.”
“Someone close to me.” Who may not want to see his line continue as laird. Who had sought to kill his wife. “Who may not be eager to see you with child.”
“Jason, I—” She pressed her lips together, her expression quizzical. “You are not…you are not angry with me. You…do not wish to set me aside?”
He took her hands in his, running his calloused thumb over her smooth palm. “You are my wife. The king may have commanded our marriage, Elizabeth, but he was right to. I will protect you, and I will care for you.” He met her eyes. “You are a miracle, wife. Not a curse. And I will thank my king and God every day for you.”