The way forward was not immediately clear. Jason wanted to leave Elizabeth in their room, locked securely behind a door guarded by his most trusted men while he hunted down the bastard who had stolen their child and attempted to murder his wife.
But that was never an option—not after Elizabeth had reluctantly admitted that she had spent the greater portion of her own childhood in such circumstances.
He would have to allow her into the world even if it meant he would put her safety at risk.
But first, he had to take a stand with his family.
His aunt swept into their room several days after Elizabeth had first left the bed. Her color had returned but she still tired easily and was only just managing to take solid foods.
Tracy pursed her lips as she took in the swaddled figure in the chair by the fire before turning her attention back to her nephew. “I am relieved to see your wife is feeling better.”
“Are you?” Jason replied with his brows raised. He clasped his hands behind his back. “Do not think your behavior these last six months has gone unnoticed, Aunt. Your place here has been important, but—”
“Husband…” Elizabeth said, softly. She rose to her feet, keeping a shawl tucked around her shoulders. He scowled at her but she ignored him as she joined his side. “Your aunt tested me and I failed. I did not push for a place here. Truth be told, I did not think I would be able to measure up. I was not expected to make any marriage at all, much less to a Highland chieftain who required a better wife than I.”
“Elizabeth,” Jason growled, but she put a hand on his arm.
“’Tis true and you know it. I wanted peace and a family. I wanted to be a good wife to you—”
“Perhaps to the man,” Elizabeth agreed with a half smile. She looked to Tracy. “But I am not merely married to Jason Morgan, the man, but Jason, the laird, and I have a responsibility to that position.”
Tracy raised her chin. “Aye, you do. And this clan deserves better—”
“But they have me,” Elizabeth said, again interrupting him. “I do not know if the poison given to me was meant nefariously or to free Jason from a disadvantageous marriage. I cannot think they wanted to prevent the birth of a child as no one knew of the bairn.” Her voice slipped then, and this time she did not argue as Jason steered her back to the chair by the fire.
Tracy shifted, uncomfortably. “It is still difficult to imagine of our own could do such a thing. I wish I could maintain it was an accident, but Barbara has assured me it could not have been. I…have not been as welcoming as I ought to have been to the wife of my nephew. The king chose you—I ought not to have questioned it. And…” She looked at Jason, the bedgrudging fondness clear in her expression. “It is quite obvious you have been a good wife to Jason.”
“I have tried,” Elizabeth said, softly. “But ‘tis time for me to be the lady of this clan. My mother did not prepare me for such things. I would like to be worthy of the name the king and my husband have given me.”
“That is ridiculous,” Jason began.
“If it ‘tis your wish to learn how to go on, to run this keep, I will see it done. It will be your children that will inherit, not mine after all.” She hesitated again. “I am sorry for the loss of the child. We have long looked forward to the birth of a new generation. For Jason to have strong sons to continue our fine traditions. And Dillon has told me of your wish to be a mother.”
Elizabeth looked away, towards the fire, tears burning in her eyes again. “Aye,” she murmured.
“Jason’s mother lost three children before their first birthday, and two more were never born,” Tracy said, matter of factly. “I lost two of my own, including my eldest son in battle. Highland women bury their children. Their sons in warfare, their daughters in childbirth. ‘Tis our duty to move forward, to look to the future. You conceived once, you will be with child again. We will take your safety seriously.” She looked to Jason. “I apologize if my behavior led any in the clan to think I would countenance such an action.”
She nodded to Elizabeth and left.
Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “I think that your aunt accidentally called me a Highland woman.”
Jason managed a smile as he knelt before. “’Tis her guilt speaking. She’ll be calling you a Sassenach again tomorrow. I…I do not believe she was involved.”
“No, I do not think so. She would come at me directly. She never pretended to like. I have always known where I stand.”
“I want it to be clear, Elizabeth, that in no way have you disappointed me. You are my wife and that is the end of it.”
She managed a slight chuckle as she brushed her fingertips against his cheek. “And I am grateful every day to my king and to God for that fact because I truly believe it. But we will have a child one day. A son who will follow you, and he deserves a strong mother. I have been hiding these last months, content in these four walls to be a good wife in private. But I want more. I want to take my place by your side and gain the respect of your men because I deserve it, not because you have commanded it.”
“I…am terrified,” Jason managed to say, likely using that word for the first time, “that I do not know who my enemies are. That they may come for you again.”
“I am terrified every day you leave this room. I have worried for months that you will be taken from me by someone you trust. I do not believe they will come for me again, but for you. But I do not wish to live my life afraid of all that might happen and miss it entirely.”
He nodded. “All right. We will try it your way. I will find the man responsible, Elizabeth. And I will keep you safe.”